Samples, Research & Tools
FAQ: The CASE Benchmarking Toolkit

About the toolkit
About benchmarking
About forming and managing a community of practice
About survey development
About analyzing and utilizing survey results

About the toolkit

What is the CASE Benchmarking Toolkit?
The CASE Benchmarking Toolkit is a web-based, custom-developed survey system designed to give groups of institutions or advancement professionals within "communities of practice" an easy, user-friendly way to collect and review information about each other. They can use the information gained through benchmarking to better understand their operations and work toward continuous improvement.

What does the toolkit do?
The CASE Benchmarking Toolkit:

  • Allows a peer community of practice with common interests to develop and take its own survey
  • Allows the entire community to share and discuss results
  • Allows individual members of the group to compare their results to a subset of the group or the group as a whole based on factors they define themselves
  • Allows participants to develop and download charts into their own reports

Why did CASE develop the toolkit?
Many CASE members have expressed a need for assistance with benchmarking their programs with those of their peer institutions. CASE developed the toolkit to:

  • Help members generate benchmarking data that will inform decision-making and support the continuous improvement of their programs
  • Generate and share advancement data that serves the profession as a whole

Who can use the toolkit?
The toolkit is available to any advancement professional at a CASE member institution who decides to form or join a community of practice.

Can individuals who are not members of CASE use the toolkit?
The CASE Benchmarking Toolkit is a benefit of CASE membership, meaning that costs for basic use are covered in an institution's annual membership dues. Individuals at institutions that are not CASE members may participate in a toolkit survey if:

  • Most of the other members in the community of practice that developed the survey are members of CASE
  • They pay a fee to participate

Non-member participation fees will vary by survey. Fees will be applied toward the cost of CASE membership if the institution joins CASE within a year of the survey launch date.

What are the costs associated with using the toolkit?
The CASE Benchmarking Toolkit is a benefit of CASE membership, meaning that costs for basic use are covered in an institution's annual membership dues. CASE will provide basic service to communities of practice using the toolkit at no charge.

Basic service includes:

  • Demonstrating the toolkit
  • Entering the final survey into the toolkit
  • Providing expert guidance on effective survey strategies and question development
  • Ensuring access to the toolkit for members of the community
  • Trouble-shooting toolkit access and use before, during and after the survey period
  • Providing a set of comprehensive responses in an Excel spreadsheet to the group leader once the survey has closed

Some groups ask CASE to conduct additional, complex analysis of data to develop reports and to give presentations on the findings. CASE may charge groups for analysis and reports beyond the basic toolkit services described above. Fees will vary based upon the depth of the analysis; printed reports will be charged to the group at cost. In general, costs associated with requests for a CASE staff member to travel to meet with groups or present data will be covered by the requesting group.

How can I get a demonstration of the toolkit?
CASE research staff can provide a demonstration of the toolkit to an individual or groups via a webinar using a telephone and computer. Staff members may also provide in-person demonstrations, although associated travel expenses must usually be covered by the group. Contact the research staff at +1-202-478-5557 for more information and to schedule a demonstration.

About benchmarking

What is benchmarking?
Benchmarking is the collection and review of common data among peer institutions for the purpose of understanding the range of performance and practice among those institutions. Advancement practitioners can use the perspectives they gain from benchmarking to improve their own programs and to provide context for their work within their own institutions. In short, benchmarking is about using group data to define and set internal goals for continuous improvement and should not be used to rank programs or institutions.

How does the CASE Benchmarking Toolkit facilitate benchmarking?
Benchmarking allows peer institutions to compare themselves to one another collaboratively. Survey responses are gathered through the CASE Benchmarking Toolkit, which allows each member of the community to break down and display the results according to his or her interests and needs. These results can then be inserted directly into participants' reports or presentations.

About forming and managing a community of practice

What is a community of practice?
A community of practice is simply a group of peers with shared interests because:

  • Their institutions share particular characteristics (for example, institution type, mission, geography, athletic conference)
  • They share common responsibilities (for example, advancement services, fundraising, alumni relations or annual fund, Web development or special events management)
  • They have common questions (such as "How much are my peer institutions budgeting for marketing?," "Which social media are my peer institutions using, and what metrics are they using to measure success?" or "How many major gift fundraisers do my peers have on staff?")

In some cases, institutions have already identified a group of peer schools, colleges or universities against which they compare themselves. In others, they may have identified a group of institutions they aspire to be like in the future. In still others, an advancement practitioner may want to compare with other programs that share characteristics with their own. For example, a practitioner may be interested in benchmarking with independent alumni associations or fundraising programs specific to business schools.

Regardless of the characteristics that define a particular community of practice, community members usually share an interest in asking common questions so they can compare their work with those of their peers.

How do I form a community of practice?
If you have an idea about what you would like to benchmark - such as activities, number of staff or budget - think about institutions with programs that share characteristics with your own. Often, you will already know which institutions you compare yourself with and have contacts with your counterparts there.

If your institution is already a member of a group of peer institutions, you might think about this group as your community of practice. For example, the Jesuit Advancement Association is a peer group of religiously affiliated institutions that has used the CASE Benchmarking Toolkit for a survey on fundraising operations.

Once you have identified the group with which you want to benchmark, contact your counterparts at these institutions to see if they share your interest in benchmarking programs.

Note that if you envision contacting a large community of practice, CASE can assist you by sending potential community members an e-mail. In these cases, the community would need to be clearly defined (as in, alumni relations directors at liberal arts institutions of fewer than 10,000 students in CASE U.S. District III) rather than overly general or large (as in, all alumni relations directors in the United States or all major gift officers in Europe).

Once you have identified a group of peers interested in benchmarking, you can invite a sub-group (or the full group, depending upon its size) to work with you to develop a benchmarking survey.

How big should my community of practice be?
A community of practice might be 20 institutions or 100. As a general rule, however, smaller communities are easier to manage and may yield the most applicable benchmarking results. In order to protect anonymity, CASE does not recommend groups of fewer than 20 institutions unless the group agrees to be able to see each other's responses by institution name rather than anonymously.

What is the role of the community of practice leader or leaders?
A community of practice may have one leader or share leadership among several individuals. The most important point is that the community is led by individuals who are willing to invest the time to see the project through to completion.

Community of practice leaders typically:

  • Identify and invite members to the community
  • Guide discussion about conditions of membership, confidentiality of survey results and appropriate sharing of institutional data; often these discussions will lead to a document outlining the operating principles of the group
  • Provide CASE with the names and contact information of group members and advise CASE of changes in membership promptly so that CASE staff can ensure timely access to the toolkit
  • Organize a group of community of practice members to take ownership of surveys and develop questions, wording and definitions
  • Actively encourage community members to respond to the survey
  • Organize opportunities for community members to discuss the survey results

What is CASE's role in helping the community of practice leader or leaders?

CASE will:

  • Demonstrate the toolkit
  • Help community leaders define goals and explore ways to engage community members
  • Train survey developers to use the toolkit
  • Provide expert guidance on effective survey strategies and question development
  • Ensure access to the toolkit for members of the community
  • Trouble-shoot toolkit access and use before, during and after the survey period
  • Provide a set of comprehensive responses in an Excel spreadsheet to the group leader once the survey has closed
  • Keep community leaders informed of any general, aggregate CASE use of the survey results

What is the role of the community of practice member?

  • Remain in good standing at CASE member institutions and with the community of practice
  • Respect the agreed-upon understandings of the community regarding confidentiality, data use and other conditions of participation
  • Participate in survey tests and the actual survey as requested by the community leader

About survey development

How long should a survey be?
While there is no hard and fast rule to the number of questions for a given survey, usually "the shorter the better" is good advice. The longer the survey, the less likely it is that it will be filled out. CASE will provide guidance on appropriate survey length based upon the goals of the survey and the nature of the participants.

Who should develop the survey?
The community of practice leader or leaders can develop the survey or the community can identify a sub-group of volunteers to draft the survey. CASE will provide guidance on drafting effective survey questions and will review survey drafts to help community leaders ensure that the questions are framed in ways that generate reliable and actionable answers.

What key decisions about access and confidentiality need to be made, and what are the pros and cons of each?
Each community of practice can choose the level of access and confidentiality for its data. Areas to consider include:

  • Whether or not community members have access to each others' data by institution name or anonymously
  • Whether and how individual or group data will be shared with others outside of the group
  • When data may be shared

CASE recommends documenting and sharing these decisions in a memorandum of understanding so that all community of practice members understand the parameters for participation.

What are best practices in developing survey questions?

CASE research staff will provide groups with advice about developing effective survey questions.

How long should I leave a survey open?
The length of time a survey should remain open relates to how challenging it will be for respondents to gather data to answer the questions. Most surveys are open from three to five weeks. Regardless of the length of the survey or the length of time you choose to leave the survey open, it is very important to stick with a firm deadline to ensure that the majority of participants complete the survey by the agreed upon date. Deadline extensions take time away from survey analysis and applying the results of the survey and rarely lead to significant increases in participation.

What support can CASE provide?
CASE can advise your group as you develop your survey and throughout the project. Often, CASE staff can participate in planning conference calls to help guide the discussion that frames your survey. However, the final design and development of your survey is ultimately up to the community of practice.

About analyzing and using survey results

Who analyzes the results?
Individual survey participants can access basic survey results, including comparisons to the group as a whole or sub-sets of the group, within the toolkit. The toolkit also has a more advanced "dashboard" that allows users access to charts that display results of various questions in ratios (for example, dollars raised per staff).

CASE provides an Excel sheet to the community of practice leader for members of the community who want to conduct more detailed analysis of the data on their own, and CASE will provide deeper analysis for a fee. See "About the CASE Benchmarking Toolkit" for more information about fees.

Who has access to the survey results?
Individual participants will have access to the survey results within the toolkit; the group will decide whether and how the results can be shared outside of the membership.

CASE also has access to all survey results and usually retains the right to analyze and report on them in the aggregate if staff members believe they will be helpful to the profession. However, CASE will respect the confidentiality of individual survey participants and will also agree to keep all results confidential in select circumstances. Confidentiality issues will be addressed and agreed to before the launch of any survey.

How can I use the survey results to improve my programs?
Benchmarking provides context for your program when compared with similar programs offered by similar institutions. At the same time, it's not about one institution being better than another.

Individuals can use the survey results to assess whether peers investing more or less in a program are having greater or poorer results, whether budget and staffing for various functions are comparable or other aspects of a program in relation to peers.

Findings can be used to set internal goals for program improvement or alert programs to useful data they currently are not measuring. Some communities repeat surveys annually or every other year to identify trends and measure change over time.

In addition, the results of benchmarking can be used to give context to your operations for other members of the institutional community.

CASE encourages communities that benchmark with each other to discuss among themselves and with CASE how they are using the results and what others may learn from the benchmarking process. CASE will provide guidance on best practices for benchmarking based upon this feedback.


I have forgotten my user ID and /or my password. How can I retrieve them?
Your user ID is the email address you use to log in to the CASE website. If you do not know your user ID, please visit the member support center or call +1-202-328-CASE [2273].

If you do not remember your password, go to the login box at the upper right hand side of the CASE website and click on "Forgot your password?" A new password will be sent to you, and then you can reset it as appropriate.

I have logged on successfully, but why can't I find or see the survey I came for?
That survey you are looking for may simply no longer be an "active" survey, i.e., it may be past the closing date for responding set by the survey creator. If you do not see a survey that you believe is still open, please visit the member support center or contact the CASE research staff at +1-202-478-5557.

I'm having trouble with a toolkit function, such as entering data, selecting results or downloading charts. What should I do?
Please review the appropriate section of How do I Use the CASE Benchmarking Toolkit? A Click-by-Click Guide. If you are still having trouble, please contact the CASE research staff at +1-202-478-5557 or via the member support center.