The Culture Benchmark enables arts and culture organisations to compare their approach to income development, cost management and overall sustainability anonymously and confidentially to others within the culture sector. To register for either the Culture Benchmark or the RFO Benchmark click here
By submitting data through the MyCake secure website, organisations can compare their own data vs. the average, max, min and top quartile either nationally or by selecting filters for geographic region, size of organisation (in £ or FTE staff), sector and other such filters.
Godfrey Worsdale, director of Baltic Centre for Contemporary Arts (http://www.balticmill.com/) commented: “This area for consideration is made at an extremely apposite moment, given the combined factors of a recently expanded infrastructure for arts provision and a pressurised public funding environment, which will significantly constrain direct support for the arts. There is a long held belief within the arts that there is a more self sustaining model that can work in tandem with public subsidy, but the reality is that only the larger cultural organisations have the capacity to properly consider these opportunities.”
What is it and how does it work?
The Culture Benchmark is an online toolkit available 24/7 on a secure site (held on grade 1 server farms with all the usual level of security and confidentiality to protect your data properly). As you set up your account you’ll be asked to pick a ‘facilitator group’ … otherwise known as a cluster. There are over 50 to choose from so far and these range from ones for different local authority areas (Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle & Gateshead etc), art form groups and trade association groups (VAGA, ITC etc). All of these have been set up in response to requests from subscribers so they all have members and data already! If you need a new one just talk to us and we’ll get it done.
Once you’ve set up your account you’re ready to add your data. The annual form builds your profile, covers your financial, audience and other sustainability data and if you’re an NPO or member of MMM there are special sections for the annual data and evaluation work respectively. It takes about an hour to fill in a form if you have all your data to hand. When you’ve finished you send your data for review, we check it to make sure there are no decimal points in the wrong place (MyCake staff and specifically Sarah Thelwall are the only other people who can see your individual data) and the results are enabled. Here’s where the fun really starts!
For any group that you’re a member of plus for the national data set you can compare your data to the average, maximum, minimum and top quartile (best 25%). This means that you can answer all sorts of questions about how good you are vs. national, regional, art form and other cohorts.
How is it useful to me and my organisation?
There are three levels at which these benchmark results are useful to an individual arts organisation:
- Benchmark comparisons are great for identifying strengths and weaknesses. Of course you may have a strong gut feel about this anyway but it’s good to be able to shift from hunch based to evidence based arguments. The first use to which most subscribers put this data is to look at the internal strategies, forecasts and plans and see how they view the their targets for income growth and cost savings in the light of how well or badly they are stacking up against their peers. Clearly it’s not a black and white thing, nor is it a case of shifting targets simply as a result of the benchmark data but the value of this additional information source in the regular planning meetings is one that our subscribers have highlighted time and again. Other internal uses include helping you evaluate your options for income generation. There’s been a lot of discussion about the potential for individual giving to replace grant funding in some areas. Before you embark upon the development of a giving strategy wouldn’t it be useful to know what best in class looks like across organisations of a similar size, sector and geography? If you found that the very best were only achieving say 5% of their revenue from donations and you hoped to fill a gap of say 15% would this really be an avenue to pursue or might there be other approaches that have the potential of greater returns?
- In addition to using the benchmark results for internal discussions there’s the use in building stronger arguments in funding applications and improving the information fed back to existing funders and stakeholders. The first thing that subscribers tend to communicate is their strengths and successes. Being able to say that you’ve compared yourself to your peers and that you are best in class at X or in the top quartile for Y is a powerful thing. You might also use it to demonstrate the need for funding if you had identified a weakness that matched up against a funders interests.
- The third level at which benchmarking is useful is to look at sector trends and patterns over time. As a leader of an arts organisation you may not spend much of your time doing this but the various consultants, writers, researchers and strategists in your network certainly will be. If your data was accessible not as an individual data set (it’s too confidential to make that public!) but as part of an aggregate then you’d be making a material contribution to the knowledge base of the sector. This sounds like pure altruism but look at it another way. When you hire a bunch of consultants to help you look for cost savings or new income routes they’ll certainly be looking to compare your current state of affairs to other organisations. One organisation we know of spent £12,000 on these sorts of comparisons … and if you had to go in search of this data on set at a time you can see how the cost would build up pretty rapidly. If however the data is more easily available (via your £250 Culture Benchmark subscription!) then instead of spending time and money finding data you and your consultants can focus on the analysis. Much more effective use of time!
What do other people think of it?
Well MMM like it enough to partner with us on their re.volution programme, the folks at the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and several of the other key private trusts & foundations are excited by the developments we’ve made and the benefits to organisations they invest in. We’re also working with the folks at Birmingham City Council and the Independent Arts Sector Group. We’re writing a few pieces for the Guardian (via the Culture Professionals subsite) and we have regular excited conversations about data and it’s uses with them. Plus of course there’s the contribution that data made to Size Matters and the views of the subscribers (see below).
Clare Cooper director and co-founder of Mission Models Money (http://www.missionmodelsmoney.org.uk/) commented: “Mission Models Money supports the researching and development of concrete tools for arts organisations, such as the Culture Benchmark by MyCake, to help them improve their financial sustainability. Based on our own research over the last five years we are convinced of the need for a sea change in the behaviour of not for profit arts organisations and that to make this shift we need a concerted and co-ordinated approach. Without this we risk losing the progress made in the last decade as organisations fail to sustain themselves in the light of public funding cuts.”
Chris Franklin, Director of Resources, Crafts Council (www.craftscouncil.org.uk ) said:
“Here at the Crafts Council we have found the Culture Benchmarking tool a highly useful resource in the strategic planning process. It’s been well worth taking the time to integrate the tool into the way we review all the useful data in our organisation.”
“I had a light bulb moment within five minutes of studying the benchmark.” Benjamin Cook, director of LUX arts agency
“Your figures were very useful for us. We discovered that our building is expensive (we thought it was cheap), that our artistic programme and marketing need accounting differently (we are peculiar because these things have blurry boundaries because of the nature of our work) and that we really could be raising more money from trusts, foundations and corporate sponsors. This last thing was something we already knew abstractly but seeing the disparity between our own and other organisations figures was quite chastening. We had assumed that there was not really much money out there for the arts at the moment. We are acting on this more vigorously now.” Ruth Catlow, director of Furtherfield for Art, Technology and Social Change
VAGA members we’re offering you a free one-to-one financial management consultation worth £150 (+vat) when you sign up for the Culture Benchmark.
Quote the code ‘VAGA’ when you contact MyCake, and you will receive a free 1 hour consulting session by phone, analysing your figures and giving advice on how to identify cost savings and new income potential. To find out more about the Culture Benchmark or to sign up and claim your free consulting session, get in touch with Sarah Thelwall via the contact page.
Re.volution peers – you’re eligible for a free six month subscription with no commitment to move to a paid subscription when you sign up for the Culture Benchmark between Feb 2012 and August 2012.
As we’re working with MMM we have 50 free six month subscriptions to give to re.volution peers provided you sign up and join the MMM cluster by the end of August 2012.
How do I get started?
Organisations can join the Culture Benchmark by going to MyCake and registering. The subscription cost is £250 per year or £600 for a single purchase 3 years subscription. Data can be input immediately using the online form. MyCake offers guidance through this and on how to view results.
The benchmark system is anonymous and confidential, allowing organisations to evaluate their data with confidence.
Click here for Culture Benchmark news and data results.
Click here for Sarah’s research into intangible assets in the arts
Current stats as of 15/6/12:
Total organisations: 440
Total data sets: 600
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