Non-Profit Social Sector

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 15:09

Exploring Characteristics, Capacity, and Collaboration of the Social Non-Profit Sector

This applied research project explored key characteristics, financial and human resources, organizational capacity, social innovation, and organizational connections in the Columbia Basin-Boundary non-profit social sector. The research was an important step towards enabling evidence-based decision-making by our regions’ colleges and Columbia Basin Trust in efforts related to strengthening the sector. The research provides individual non-profits and the region as a whole with benchmark data against which to compare experiences and characteristics. In addition, the research  explored collaborative networks and highlights examples of innovation in the region’s non-profit social sector.

Research Rationale & Target User Groups

The non-profit sector has a substantial presence in our communities, creating meaningful employment and greatly contributing to individual and collective health and well-being. In order to sustain this important work and achieve greater success in outcomes, organizations are finding innovative and more intentional ways of working and working together. The literature is rich with information about the benefits of social innovation, collaboration, and collective impact. Forming and managing an intentional network allows for the ability to adapt, experiment, and invent, with structures in place to mobilize collective energy and resources.

Leaders in the Columbia Basin-Boundary social sector are actively discussing and practicing varying levels of networking, cooperating, coordinating, and collaborating. This research project created a baseline understanding of the social sector network, explored elements of successful innovations, and identified gaps and opportunities to sustain and strengthen this important sector. This research intends to contribute to current efforts on increasing regional collaboration for greater impact of the social sector and to the overall interest of collaboration across the non-profit sector in our region.

Guiding Research Questions

  1. What are the key characteristics of social non-profit organizations and what financial and human resources are in place within the region?

  2. What challenges and opportunities is the region’s non-profit social sector experiencing?

  3. In what ways are the region’s social non-profit organizations advancing rural development through innovation and collaboration?

  4. What are the strengths and limitations of our region’s non-profit social sector network?


RDI conducted an online survey of social sector organizations, followed by key informant interviews, and a series of focus groups. The research employed a participatory, embedded case study approach using descriptive statistics and grounded theory to code qualitative data. An advisory group of representatives from the social sector across the region provided insight throughout the research design, implementation, and mobilization of findings. As an applied research project, outcomes include possible next steps for improving the function, sustainability, and impact of the social sector in the Columbia Basin-Boundary.

Key Activities and Timelines

The project ran from fall 2014 to fall 2016, and research is now complete. Key research products are described and linked below.

Inventory of social non-profits

This inventory includes over 300 social non-profit organizations and programs across the Columbia Basin-Boundary region. Before this research, no publicly available inventory of social non-profits existed, and this inventory can now serve as a way for residents and groups to locate and connect with each other. The list includes details on location, contact information, service area, and services provided.

Research Brief: Survey Results: Characteristics & Capacity of the Non-Profit Social Sector

The research began with an online survey of social non-profits across the region to help understand and create a baseline of organizational characteristics and capacity. This research brief reports on the findings from this survey, including organizational characteristics, financial resources and challenges, human resources and challenges, organizational needs, levels of collaboration and motivations and barriers to collaboration. There is also a full report on survey results which can be viewed here. To learn about the results also view the Social Sector Surprises? Webinar Video or the Social Sector Surprises? Webinar Presentation Slides.

Research Brief: Innovation in Action: Stories of  Social Sector Success

The online survey was followed by several interviews of leaders within the social non-profit sector both within and outside the region. This report shares the findings from these interviews with particular attention to why organizations innovate, what makes innovation successful, and how to create a culture of innovation. Several examples of innovation across the Columbia Basin-Boundary region are highlighted as well as other Canadian social innovation organizations and resources.

Research Brief: Community Conversations: Improving Social Well-being & Social Sector Health

A series of focus groups were conducted to share findings from the survey and to solicit ideas to strengthen the social sector and improve social well-being in our communities and region. This research brief provides a summary of the results from five focus groups conducted, highlighting responses to the three main discussion questions: (1) What is working well right now in the social sector?, (2) What are some new ideas to strengthen the social sector?, and (3) How can your community work together to improve social well-being?.

Knowledge Brief: Foundations for Change: Non-Profit Sector Innovation

This knowledge brief summarizes a review of literature conducted as part of the research project. It explains key concepts related to improving community development outcomes for the non-profit sector as well as other areas of society, including the concepts of: social innovation, social networks, collaboration, and collective impact.