Benchmarking for Social Profit Organisations (SPOs)

We have a special affinity with organisations that are more traditionally called 'not for profit' organisations. But the idea of defining an organisation by what they're NOT about seems a little negative to us, so we've decided to call them Social Profit Organisations (SPOs).

We've frequently found SPOs to be incredibly enthusiastic towards innovative approaches to tracking engagement, and perhaps some of this is due to necessity - they often have the workforce capability, skills, morale and retention issues that all companies have, but with a smaller budget for dealing with them. They also have more at stake in many cases because it is primarily their vision, mission and culture that retains and motivates their staff - higher salaries are generally not an option for attracting and retaining the people they need. Benchmarks for staff culture are thus important for understanding an SPOs ability to leverage culture for advantage - but what benchmarks should we be using?

External benchmarks

External benchmarks for employee surveys have always been a problematic beast and they can often create a significant and unhelpful distraction. The case argued for them is that without them you simply have no idea how your organisation stacks up against the competition. But who exactly is the competition? Do you compete for employees, talent and skills in the one industry? What exact organisations should you benchmark yourself against and when were they last surveyed? Unfortunately, the more specific you get the smaller the benchmark samples get and the larger they get the less relevant they get. The main point to make is that they are always some sort of compromise and they should always be taken as one piece of contextual information - not as a silver bullet. Remember, with most organisations conducting surveys annually, a focus on external benchmarking can create a focus on what was mediocre last year, or even the year before in some cases.

Internal benchmarks

The other important source of benchmarking data comes from within your own organisation; internal benchmarks provide you with a view of what is possible within your very own context and can be a very powerful source of energy for change. Although managers often claim external benchmarks are irrelevant (being too specific, or too general, or too old) it can be much harder to argue against internal benchmarks that show parts of their own organisation that are achieving much better levels of engagement and performance. Internal benchmarks should be at least as important as external benchmarks and for line managers they should perhaps be the only benchmarks to focus on.


Staff engagement for SPOs is much the same as for any For Profit Organisation (FPO) - you're interested in staff being proud, committed and motivated by your mission. What is different however is that staff within SPOs can often have incredible levels of pride while not being committed to staying with the organisation - and this often translates to a lack of advocacy for the SPO as a place of employment. This means that overall engagement levels can be similar to FPOs but the engagement profile can be very different.

What is also often quite different are staff perceptions of organisational and operational performance - this is going beyond engagement and using staff as an important source of internal and external intelligence. Increasingly these are often the things that staff in SPOs are most glad to see us asking in our surveys. When we ask front line staff whether resources are being efficiently directed towards the organisations mission we often see huge differences in organisations (and between different departments of the same organisation) and this is often pushing talented and devoted staff out the door - even when they've been proud to have been there trying.

Where to from here?

Organisations should use a balance of external and internal benchmarks to contextualise their cultures. This should be an external benchmark that they feel best represents the broad areas where they can attract (or lose ) staff and they should use an internal benchmark that identifies a clear performance target from within the organisation. The external benchmarks can alert an organisations to relatively large cultural differences while the internal benchmarks can help communicate that the culture is about realistic improvement and celebrating success where it exists.

Your benchmarking checklist

If you're using an external benchmark supplier:

  • Ask whether your benchmark is based on organisational level surveys or a panel survey: Some survey consultancy firms claim they have thousands of companies in their benchmarks but it is really just a market research panel of people who work for those companies and often they will have one person from each of the companies in their benchmark - this can be useful but it is not the same.
  • Ask exactly how many organisations are in the benchmark (for each question in your survey) and how old the results are: Some firms will use results for the past three years or even the last decade - this is not what most people are after.
  • Ask for a breakdown of the size and types of the companies in the benchmark: Often a benchmark for financial services will include a range of small organisations that manage a pension fund, for example, which will be quite different from what most people have in mind for 'financial services'.

And if you're interested in participating in a more open method of benchmarking:
We will be providing SPOs an innovative and cost-realistic alternative for culture benchmarking - all participating organisations will have full access to all benchmark data within the system. If you'd like to know more about our engagement and exit engagement survey platform have a look here and get in touch.

About Culture Amp

We've brought together experts in technology, data science and organizational psychology to ensure you can get the clarity you need, when you need it. Measuring employee engagement, experience and 360° feedback is simple using Culture Amp.

Learn more