Organizational effectiveness/Benchmarking

This is the Wikimedia Foundation Benchmarking Report produced by Marieke Spence of the TCC Group. This research was requested by the Wikimedia Foundation, as a way to launch more discussions in the movement about organizational effectiveness by better understanding the work of other organizations and movements.

External Benchmarking: purpose and process




To provide Wikimedia with examples of how relevant peers address similar issues by focusing on:

  • Key factors
  • Characteristics
  • Decision-making



TCC generated three (3) sets of criteria driven by the internal research phase to select the five (5) most relevant peer organizations to Wikimedia:

  • Comparable features
  • Strategic elements
  • Operational elements


Benchmarking Organizations[1]

Organization A…
Promotes, protects, and advances a particular programming language, and supports and facilitates the growth of a diverse and international community of programmers.
Organization B…
Promotes openness, innovation & opportunity on the web.
Organization C…
Organizes citizens of all nations to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want.
Organization D…
Empowers youth for peace and the fulfilment of humankind's potential.
Organization E…
Alleviates human suffering, protects life and health, and upholds human dignity especially during armed conflicts and other emergencies.

Summary of findings


Organizational design

  • While some movements are very hierarchical and rules-based, with a focus on fresh leadership, energy, and ideas, others almost purposefully lack infrastructure altogether, while focusing heavily on hiring staff that model specific cultural values.
  • Four out of five of benchmarks maintain that formalizing structures can incentivize volunteers to join the movement.
  • Four out of five benchmarks place high value on the offline community: the personal, human connections that drive a volunteer to initially engage.
  • Benchmarks are moving toward positions in knowledge brokering, influencing norms, and advocacy, as technology and software tools are increasingly supporting communication and knowledge sharing between individuals and between member organizations.

Growth and scaling

  • Four out of five benchmarks note that accessibility is key to grow movements and increase diversity within the movement.
  • Two benchmarks maintain that empowering volunteers to address gaps in their content or services is a clear way to enhance social impact.
  • One benchmark revealed that growth and scaling aren’t valuable (or sustainable) unless reinforced by strong shared norms, values, and culture.
  • Understand your “jigsaw strategy”: While scaling, is it more effective to “go deep” on one piece of the puzzle, or make smaller investments across the bigger picture?

The Role of Volunteers

  • All five benchmarks effectively recruit, manage, and engage volunteers.
  • All five benchmarks believe that (paid) staff must internalize the value of volunteers and meaningfully work alongside them.
  • Volunteers increasingly prefer limited, discrete engagements; paid staff provide continuity but need to effectively work with a more atomized volunteer base.
  • Many benchmarks employ a “ladder of engagement” to on-board volunteers starting with basic activities and climbing to leadership.
  • Several benchmarks incentivize volunteers by linking the movement’s “products and services” with marketable skills that may help volunteers professionally.
  • Several benchmarks actively harnesses volunteer feedback to better adapt products and services and improve the volunteer experience.

Measuring Organizational Effectiveness

  • Within the five benchmarks, there are a wide variety of approaches to measuring impact and organizational effectiveness.
  • For many, making meaning out of data is a continuing challenge.
  • One benchmark in particular is doing a good job of decentralizing the tools used to measure impact, allowing affiliate groups to track local volunteer contributions and recognize high-level contributors.


  • For most organizations, there is a clear link between increasing diversity of volunteers and increasing impact.
  • Innovation within a network occurs when volunteers can use the movement as way to express or realize their personal passions.
  • Affiliates that build strong partnerships are more successful.
  • So called “positive deviants” are constantly changing and adapting to stay relevant.


  • Addressing gaps in content and on the technical side yields immediate payoff for movements where the primary measure of social impact is online.
  • Online tools can showcase best practices and knowledge, allowing organizations and their affiliates to disseminate them to the broader movement.
  • All five benchmarks note that technology is integral to language translation.

Grantmaking and resource provision

  • Many of the benchmarks make very selective grants through opaque processes.
  • Grants tend to be for specific programs rather than to entities for general operating support.
  • Funding projects, causes, or profit-generating events is another common grantmaking practice.
  • For movements with a mix of strong and weak affiliates, “lateral” grantmaking - where one successful group funds another in need - combined with mentoring and targeted capacity building is maximizing impact.



Critical questions

  • Should we fund or invest in the network as a whole as opposed to individual entities? What would this look like?
  • What types of non-monetary support would be most beneficial for volunteers and organizations?
  • How will we establish and communicate the value of different organizations in the movement to the movement, including WMF, as existing organizations continue to grow and new ones are recognized?
  • What is the right balance between establishing movement-wide standards or norms (e.g. about what OE looks like, what metrics should be analyzed to measure impact) and the “locally grown” approach?
  • Why has “peer learning” or mentoring between organizations struggled in the past? Could and should this be improved?
  • Is there a “most effective” type of Wikimedia organization? Should chapters, user Groups and thematic organizations pursue the same strategies?

TCC’s recommendations for Wikimedia


These are some recommendations about how we can apply some of this learning to our own contexts. Some of these recommendations may relate to work we are already doing, that is reinforced by this benchmarking research. More can be learned as we continue this dialogue.

  • Use the Wikimedia Foundation’s convening power to bring together organizations, groups and individual volunteers.
  • Identify and share best practices for volunteer engagement. Think through the different ways volunteers become involved, and stay involved with Wikimedia.
  • Recognize individual volunteers for achievements and contributions.
  • Engage in ongoing dialogue with stakeholders, and collect feedback to adapt processes and the user experience.
  • Build, then disseminate, adaptable software and tools to allow groups to measure local volunteer engagement and understand how offline activities lead to online impact.
  • Provide more support a community of volunteers that fix “bugs and gaps” and remove operational bottlenecks that block impact.

Appendix A


Key findings for Organization A

  • The social value of the offline community is a primary driver for online creation and ultimate movement impact
  • Mobilizing volunteers to address “bugs” or gaps in online content is a primary driver for movement impact
  • Membership can be an effective model for recognizing volunteers who make a bigger contribution to the movement
  • Low costs and zero judgment promote a community of inclusiveness, without requiring expertise in the programming language
  • A key motivator for many volunteers is professional development, including beefing up marketable skills and making connections with potential employers
  • Diversity is not just a means to an end: diversity enhances movement impact

Key findings for Organization B

  • Individual connection - a combination of offline and online connections - is almost always the way in for a volunteer
  • Mobilizing volunteers to address “bugs” or gaps in online content is a primary driver for movement impact
  • Formalizing structures can provide new avenues for volunteer engagement if managed well
  • Funding projects and causes - not entities - can advance the movement
  • Volunteer recognition is important
  • Project accessibility is key

Key findings for Organization C

  • Consider “cutting out the middle man” and finding ways to communicate directly with the individuals who create impact
  • Flexibility is key; structure can impede your ability to think strategically, so don’t become constrained by one model or another
  • Employ a jigsaw strategy; understand where you want to “go deep” and where you want to cover many bases at once
  • Understand the role of technical tools and software to increase your impact and scale
  • Implement strong social norms and movement culture, and support others who do so
  • Hierarchy is sometimes the enemy of innovation

Key findings for Organization D

  • Don’t underestimate the power of structure to influence culture (e.g. term limits); clear roles and responsibilities don’t have to stifle innovation
  • Breaking down technology barriers and making online tools as “customizable” as possible can help the organization “get out of the way” of movement volunteers
  • Feedback from volunteers can improve the online/offline experience
  • Innovation happens when personal interests align with movement interests
  • Effective organization roles within the movement include “influencer” and “connector”

Key findings for Organization E

  • Societies that cultivate partnerships tend to be stronger and more successful
  • Organization E is becoming a knowledge broker rather than a coordinator, using its international reputation to influence and advocate, and disseminate movement principles
  • Innovative, successful societies share a common thread: the ability to adapt to the changing external environment and invest in strategic capacity building
  • Today, most volunteer engagement comes from short-term, time-focused, specific activities that speak to personal values
  • Successful societies “constantly review and change the services they offer to the public”
  • A big responsibility of (paid) staff is to provide consistent volunteer recognition

Appendix B: More key takeaways (from WMF)


These takeaways from the anonymized results seemed important to us at WMF, but were not included in TCC's recommendations.

  • Better understand the social value of the offline community and individual connections in creating impact.
  • Understand the value of cultivating partnerships.
  • Consider flexible structures that enable strategic thinking.
  • Think about how we can best support projects and causes that can advance the movement.
  • Enable healthy social norms and movement culture, and support individuals who do this.

See also

  1. Benchmarking organizations are anonymized in this report.