“We don’t know what we don’t know.”
There is no truer statement that underscores why charities and nonprofits should invest in research. I’m not referring to data-mining your fundraising systems or attending sector conferences with like-minded professionals, rather undertaking robust third-party research that provides an objective analysis of the changing conditions effecting your organization. Conditions like, client impact, brand position, fundraising climate, donor engagement, and volunteer and employee satisfaction.
Designating a portion of the organization’s overhead costs or securing special funding (or gift in kind) for research projects can yield significant return on investment and critical insights to the challenges you are up against. Research can provide new information to help prepare your strategic and operational plans, focus employee performance plans and board governance plans, and to build the case for support for your sustaining campaigns. Applying proven methodology to garner evidence-based data far exceed the informal interviews and anecdotal information gathering when it comes to measuring social impact, demonstrating investment returns or streamlining the organization to achieve future results. Comprehensive, qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis can dispel myths, test assumptions, reaffirm the importance of the cause and provide evidence on how and where impact is being achieved.
For many charities, there are numerous strategic advantages that arise from conducting third-party research, as highlighted below:
- Hiring reputable expert(s) can fill an organization’s knowledge and skills gap. Experts possess specialized competencies not typically found in a charity or nonprofit organization.
- Conducting third-party research provides the objective analysis executive leaders need to educate board members and stakeholders with current and relevant data to inform the decision-making processes. Reputable research groups bring an unbiased approach to their work and interrupting data.
- Experts bring a heightened level of rigour to the research project allowing you and your team to allocate time to other important mission related matters. Outsourcing – planned and executed well – can ensure the project remains on schedule and does not get re-prioritized against in-house competing priorities.
- Having substantive and sound research enables objective and fact-based based discussion and decision-making while avoiding the common pitfalls of emotion attachment and anecdotal debate.
- Engaging cross-functional teams in your organization helps to develop a culture of learning amongst employees and volunteers. Most research project success is dependent upon the collaborative support of the staff and key stakeholders, and as such, provides secondary benefits of critical thinking, groupthink, problem solving and increased commitment to advancing the organization.
- Reporting the research findings can level the playing field or rather improve stakeholder access to information. This is essential at the board and management levels where responsible debate and critical decisions are made.
- As a result of concrete evidence found through comprehensive research your organization can build a case for change and a pathway to embark on transforming your organization to meet the current and future needs of your clients and community.
Charities and nonprofits need to adapt to the new reality brought about by today’s accelerated social and economic change. By arming all stakeholders with sound, reliable information found through third-party research you can help ensure they are acting in the best interest of the organization.
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