How to Get Your Nonprofit Colleagues to Care About Research

You’ve probably heard the term “software as a service” or “SaaS”. It refers to a web-based software solution or delivery model which allows a customer to purchase software and access it online. I have always found this term to be interesting. Normally, when I’m thinking of a service, I think of a delivery service or cleaning service. But as I’ll explore in this blog post, I’ve started thinking of research and fundraising as a service too. 

Ultimately, offering a service is about making something easier, providing value, or about completing a job that I don’t have time/expertise to do. Someone delivering my food to me means I don’t have to cook. Someone cleaning my house means I don’t have to scrub the tub this week. It’s about freeing up your time to either do something else, or completing a task that you don’t have the expertise to perform.

Research As a Service

So let’s say research is a service. What is the service you are offering? What problems are you solving? You, equipped with the tools and data necessary to fundraise with confidence, are fundraising to keep your organization moving forward. The research that you use to identify major gift donors and cultivate existing donor relationships is crucial to the success of your organization. 

So, who else knows this? Who else do you need to get on board to be successful inside of your organization and therefore outside in the real world?

I recently attended the AASP Summit conference for the Association of Advancement Service Professionals. They conducted a survey across the group asking about barriers for change in your organization. There were the pretty standard answers of budget, time, staff, and skills. But I thought it was really interesting that about 35% of people surveyed, said the biggest barrier was leadership buy-in. Do you ever feel like you are working in a silo and that an investment in tools or time into your department seems like a dream? Or that the leadership in your organization doesn’t really understand your role? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. 

You Are Providing a Service

The reality is that you are providing a service. Nonprofit organizations are made up of teams that all impact each other. The executive team is responsible for making sure things are running smoothly. The communications team makes sure the organization’s brand is stable and awareness is growing. The fundraising team makes sure that the organization can continue to operate, and makes sure the community (and donors especially) gets involved. No matter what team you are a part of – if you are a 15-person fundraising shop or if you are a researcher/fundraiser/gift officer rolled into one – you are a part of that team and you are providing value. Sometimes however, value can get lost in translation. Or maybe you’re doing so much “behind-the-scenes” work that there are people who don’t see how your amazing work is connected to the overall mission. So what do you do?


You sell. I know that might sound a little weird. It also might make you feel indignant, or that you shouldn’t have to sell your value to your own organization. I agree. In a perfect world you wouldn’t have to. But the reality is that people are busy and in their own little worlds. So sometimes we have to make sure our value is recognized instead of letting it happen on its own. 

Who Can You Bring On Board?

Depending on your organization, will depend on what your “selling” process will look like. Maybe it’s a simple conversation with your executive director to talk about the ways that your research helped secure a major gift. Or maybe it’s a presentation to your gift officers about what goes into building your prospect profiles. No matter where you start, understand who you are going to be speaking with. Much like a conversation a fundraiser has with a potential donor – being prepared for the conversation and anticipating questions is key to making your point. 

Ask and Listen: Building Relationships

As with any relationship, the importance of listening is key with your colleagues and management. Listen to what they are saying. There is a good possibility that if you are feeling overlooked or undervalued in your organization, there are others who feel this way as well. And make sure that if you are asking questions, you’re able and willing to make some changes yourself. Really, we can probably always be doing better at adding value and being transparent in our jobs. A few great questions to start with are:

  • What makes research valuable to your role?
  • How has the research I’ve provided been beneficial to you?
  • How can our departments work better together?

Make Your Case

Maybe it’s as simple as creating a document that shows the correlation between your amazing research to a major gift. Or you could prepare a presentation of what you’ve learned at a conference – show what you’ve learned and how you’re going to put it into practice. Maybe it’s some kind of regular update to your team that outlines some goals you’ve met and the value you’ve added. 

Making your case could inspire more people on your team to jump up and share what they’ve contributed too. And hopefully it’ll inspire a few more “thank yous” from your team members. Connecting any goals directly back to your outcomes is a fantastic way of doing that. If you are using iWave as your prospect research and wealth screening tool, please share these goals and outcomes with us. We want your value to be highlighted – because we absolutely believe in what you do!

Remember: You’re All On the Same Team

Your research provides a service to your team and to your mission. In a role that is very research-heavy and data-heavy, isn’t it nice to put a little humanity into your job? You know that your role is so important to the overall success of your nonprofit organization. You know that. Make sure others know it too! These kinds of conversations will help to unite your team, inspire more people to share their success, and push you to meet your goals and your mission.

About the author: Liz Corney is iWave’s Content Marketing Manager. She has a degree in Journalism, is a fiercely positive team-player and a creative self-starter. She has experience working in software technology, video/mobile games, learning & development, social & traditional media, and communications. Liz is also the co-founder of a local nonprofit organization working to better the lives of homeless women in her community. 




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