The Nonprofit Landscape Analysis: Importance and Execution
The nonprofit world is quite different from the for-profit world, yet the two worlds have key similarities. For instance, whereas for-profit companies compete for customers, profit, and more, nonprofit organizations similarly compete for donations, prominence, and opportunities to increase their effectiveness. Without knowing how your nonprofit organization stands relative to similar ones, you will be unable to effectively solve the problems and reinforce the effective practices of your organization.
To gain greater insight into your organization, its practices relative to others, and its position in the larger nonprofit landscape, you should conduct a landscape analysis. The sooner you determine where your nonprofit organization is positioned within the landscape, the more successful your nonprofit will be at creating social change.
Why You Need a Landscape Analysis
When a nonprofit is working to address demonstrated community needs using its core competencies, it can be most effective in its operations. Unfortunately, this dynamic does not often occur in practice. Nonprofits face constant pressure to collaborate, partner, network, and more, which leads them to dilute their own effectiveness in order to fit in more neatly with partner organizations. The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of nonprofit organizations can accomplish more good by focusing their efforts on a few key areas, rather than by spreading effort across a wide range of activities. Unfortunately, no one wants to be told that they cannot “do it all,” and, thus, most leadership would rather fizzle out performing 10 charitable activities than succeed with 1 or 2. Instead of making this mistake, focus your organization’s effort on key areas of expertise and community need. Conducting a nonprofit landscape analysis can inform you of this information, as well as:
- Your organization’s financial and operational position relative to similar ones and the nonprofit world at large
- Which activities your nonprofit excels or lags behind in conducting
- Whether your communities are underserved or are served by multiple organizations
- Potential areas for operational growth
Once you have conducted a landscape analysis, examine it carefully to derive the useful insights it can offer. Ideally, you would be able to determine where your organization is less suited to assist community needs and forge targeted partnerships with organizations better suited to fulfill that need. Similarly, you may discover that other organizations have weaknesses that can be supplemented by your organization’s strong points; this information can facilitate productive partnerships much better than suspicions or anecdotes. By helping your organization and others focus on strong points and key activities, a landscape analysis can also help reduce competition for resources and donor dollars among similar organizations.
Before You Conduct a Landscape Analysis
To conduct a landscape analysis, it may not be necessary to dive into datasets or research. Nonprofit organizations often possess information internally on their strengths, weak points, and position relative to other nonprofits. Thus, you should first ask your organization the following questions, making sure to answer them honestly:
- What community needs we are seeking to address?
- Who are our competitors and collaborators?
- What do we do better than other nonprofits?
- What do similar organizations do better than us?
Bringing up and continuing to answer these questions with your staff will help you create more informed strategies moving forward. This will help your nonprofit better understand the broader context in which it operates and design strategy to maximize impact. Further, this will allow your organization to identify which topics, approaches, or beneficiaries are well served by existing organizations, as well as any gaps where no organization is active. If your organization is considering significant expansion, shifts in focus, or a rigorous strategic planning process, this information can be especially useful.
How to Conduct a Landscape Analysis (in 5 steps)
Step 1: Identify Goals
First, identify your goals in conducting the landscape analysis. Additionally, determine which questions you would like the analysis to answer.
Step 2: Define Scope
With your goals of the analysis determined, decide on the scope of the analysis. Conducting an analysis with too small or too large a scope can provide unhelpful information and nonspecific insights. Will you be looking at nonprofit organizations with similar functions, approaches, structures, activities, beneficiaries, geographic service areas, or more? Carefully considering the scope of your analysis will help ensure that your findings are relevant to your organization’s specific activities and served communities. (If applicable, be sure to consider the thought leadership and connections that your organization or other nonprofits utilize).
Step 3: Choose Information to Gather
Decide on which information you will gather, knowing that it is unhelpful to gather too little or too much information. Try to identify what key data that you will need to understand each organization in the field. This is a good time to consider unorthodox data or information that is specific to your nonprofit or field, like thought leadership, unique resources, geographic limitations, and more.
Step 4: Conduct Research
With your goals and scope for the analysis chosen, you can begin to conduct targeted research on your nonprofit’s field. Some common research methods include scouring competitor websites, reviewing online databases on nonprofit information, (e.g., GuideStar or ProPublica) conducting interviews or surveys, and tracking the history and trajectory of similar organizations.
Step 5: Analyze Findings
Analyze your targeted research to derive a clearer picture of the landscape. Additionally, work with stakeholders and leadership to arrive at strategic insights to assist your nonprofit’s work.
After having conducted a landscape analysis, your nonprofit will be much better equipped to fix problem areas in its operations and expand into opportune activities and community needs. Further, you will be better able to articulate your organization’s unique focus and operational area to your donors and prospects. Preventing unhelpful overlap with other organizations’ activities and ensuring responsiveness to community needs are both crucial steps to helping your nonprofit accomplish good.