Non-Profit Social Sector

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

This applied research project explores key characteristics, financial and human resources, organizational capacity, social innovation, and organizational connections in the Columbia Basin-Boundary non-profit social sector. The research is 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 will provide individual non-profits and the region as a whole with benchmark data against which to compare experiences and characteristics. In addition, the research  explores 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 creates a baseline understanding of the social sector network, explores elements of successful innovations, and identifies 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 are 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 in summer 2015. Key informant interviews and follow up groups are a second stage. The research employs 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 is providing insight throughout the research design, implementation, and dissemination 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

  • Fall 2014: Literature review, inventory of social sector organizations, and consultations with social sector leaders.
  • Winter 2015: Formation of advisory group, knowledge sharing related to literature review and research goals, survey development and testing.
  • Spring – Summer 2015: Launch survey, collect, and analyze results.
  • Fall 2015: Report, review and discuss survey results.
  • Winter 2015 / Spring 2016: Follow up interviews on social innovation. Discussion of survey and interview findings and social sector solutions through regional focus groups.
  • Spring – Summer 2016: Release of results from interviews and focus groups.

Knowledge Mobilization and Products

Knowledge mobilization activities will focus on keeping the social sector network apprised of the research project and providing both learning opportunities and possibilities for feedback and ideas. Activities will include the sharing of knowledge briefs, reports, webinars, presentations, and group meetings. Knowledge mobilization will also include press releases (launch, key milestones, and conclusion of project), project updates in the RDI e-newsletter, project overview and progress updates on the RDI website, and discussion and promotion by advisory group members. The project will be promoted through Selkirk College and Columbia Basin Trust communication channels.

Research Brief

View report on Social Non-Profit Survey Results

View Social Sector Surprises? Webinar Presentation

View Social Sector Surprises? Webinar Video

RDI is hosting Social Sector Solutions focus groups this spring. See our calendar of events for info and to register.