Guest Post: Chicago-Based Issue Lab is a Wealth of Nonprofit Research From Across the Nation -- And It's Free!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fitz_pic Ask anyone at a gathering of nonprofit professionals whether they think its a good idea to share information and you will get a resounding yes. It sounds like a no-brainer right? I mean, why recreate the wheel if you don't have to? The more you know about what works and what doesn't, about how other nonprofits are addressing the issues that are core to your mission, or how different foundations are approaching our toughest social problems, the better you are at your own job.

But easier said than done. Most of us only share our knowledge with colleagues when we're asked. And most of our organizations only share their knowledge through their web site, which is too often a partial (and pretty passive) offering of what we actually know about an issue or set of specific practices. And in turn when we are looking for information we are most often limited to the small circle of people we know, the same old cast of organizational characters whose opinions dominate the discussion of an issue, or worse yet the thousands of unfiltered results from a Google search.

This is where IssueLab comes in. IssueLab is a an open access archive of nonprofit research. We gather research from nonprofits large and small on 34 different social issue areas -- everything from aging to housing to energy and the environment. It's free for nonprofits to share their work with us and it's free for users to view and download any of the thousands of white papers, case studies, and evaluations in the IssueLab collection. We also work hard to share this body of knowledge with a broader audience, through RSS feeds, content partnerships, and social media outreach, helping to enhance their understanding of tough social issues with knowledge from nonprofits that tackle these issues each day.

With resources as scarce as they are right now, we cannot afford, either ethically or practically, to reinvent the wheel over and over again. We have to begin to value what we know and to share that with other people working on the same issues. It's simple: everyone benefits when we share one of the sector's greatest assets, our unique understanding of social problems and the solutions to those problems.

Here are a few collections that may be of particular interest to grantmakers and nonprofits.

  • Capacity Building
    Research that either explicitly addresses the question and challenge of nonprofit capacity building or offers an evaluation of programs where capacity building was part of the intended outcomes.
  • The Volunteering Resource Library
    Includes dozens of research reports from IssueLabs collection on the subject of volunteering. (In partnership with VolunteerMatch and IdeaEncore)
  • Communications
    A collection of reports on the how, why, and what of evaluating communications efforts. This collection was put together with the help of Edith Asibey from the Atlantic Philanthropies and Asibey Consulting

   ~ Gabriela Fritz, Co-Director, IssueLab