Nonprofit Research and Development (R&D) - dummies

Nonprofit Research and Development (R&D)

By Steven D. Peterson, Peter E. Jaret, Barbara Findlay Schenck

In the nonprofit business arena, Research and Development rarely involves technological breakthroughs or science and engineering feats. For nonprofits, R&D usually means researching issues that affect the clients and funders of your organization and developing programs that fit the changing realities of the world around you.

In the for-profit marketplace, changes are pretty hard to miss. When customers stop buying a company’s products, the firm adapts or goes bye-bye. Nonprofits, on the other hand, are a bit more insulated from competition, and that’s precisely why research is so important: It helps your organization stay a step ahead of change, which, in turn, helps ensure that your services are responsive to real and current needs.

Large nonprofits hire outside specialists to conduct studies and write reports on the key issues they address, but you can take steps on your own, too. For example, you may conduct a survey of your client groups, obtain and pore over government reports, or analyze statistics that apply to your organization’s work (like the regional rate of domestic abuse or the changing face of local homelessness).

Whatever the focus of your research and whoever carries it out, the goals of your research should probably include the following:

  • Understanding basic issues and root problems

  • Tracking major trends and external changes

  • Identifying unmet program and service needs

  • Weighing the pros and cons of alternative solutions

  • Evaluating the effectiveness of existing programs

In the company description of your business plan, include key research to underscore the importance of the work you do. Also, describe how you plan to conduct ongoing research in order to stay abreast of the changing needs of your clients, your causes, and your organization.