Is There a Place for Business Analysis in a Non-Profit Organization?

Reader question:

My past 25 years of work experience has been in the not-for-profit sector, in both program work as well as various IT roles. A part of this work that I have enjoyed very much is when I have had the opportunity to help the organization I was working for to improve its processes to better meet its goals. At times this has involved helping the organization select an appropriate software product, and working with consultants to customize the software to best meet the needs of the organization.

I would like to focus more on this type of work, and am even thinking of taking some formal training in business analysis, but I don’t know if business analysis principles and processes are suited to the not-for-profit sector. Initially I would hope to apply the skills I learn at my current organization, but I would also like to volunteer helping other not-for-profits, and maybe even some day earn a living by doing business analysis with not-for-profits.

Could you tell me if my aspirations are realistic? Are there any BAs out there who do this very thing? Are there any real opportunities available? Thanks.

Doug’s Answer:

Why yes! Yes there are. I can’t tell you strongly enough that you are doing exactly what you should be doing to advance your career. Offering your services to non-profits or small business that cannot afford to hire extra resources will help you work through your growing pains while providing valuable assistance to organizations that are typically desperate for help.

When I speak to working through growing pains, you will have to realize that you are highly likely to make mistakes in judgment and execution as you work on projects. This is absolutely normal and you should look at mistakes and even failures as learning opportunities. The really great thing is that you are able to work through these events without the pressure of getting fired, demoted or having your reputation tarnished. Due to this fact, your confidence grows as you try things again and finesse your techniques along the way. FINALLY, you are less likely to suffer the wrath of your boss due to a mistake, because you are volunteering. This is THE best way to learn a craft, but by combining it with your academic ventures, you are melding book knowledge with life experience and this will yield great results and rewards.

OK, so congratulations on your insight into the things that you need to do. To your comment about whether BA principles are applicable to not-for-profit organizations…..absolutely. Actually, BA principles are applicable in any environment in which there are problems to solve, not just in the business world. Sticking to business, though, ANY business in any industry employs resources in both human and material form, utilizes process to accomplish a task and has inputs and outputs to and from points in the process. Business analysts are skilled in viewing all these components, looking for efficiencies (and deficiencies) and recommending solutions that provide value. From a lemonade stand to a high-tech software company, the analysis is essentially the same at the core.

All the best to you. You’ve got a great start going. Let us know how you progress.

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Comments

  1. Katie Metcalfe says

    I have worked as a BA in the not for profit health care sector for ten years. I find the BA role adds a lot of value in this sector as there are so many opportunities for business process improvement type of activities as well as developing requirements for software development projects to support the mandates of not for profit or program areas.

  2. @Doug… Please remember, don’t post from your cell phone again. 😉

  3. @ Jake… You nailed it! Many 501C3 companies don’t have the funds to throw technology at a problem so process flow enhancement is usually the 1st, 2nd, 3rd… step in resolving the issues.

  4. Nice information. I would emphasize as well that business analysis is not just about technology. It should start with process and business rules. Technology should support that. You will find in many non-profits, they do not even have a system to do what is needed… and never will!

    This means you get to help them solve the real problem with a real solution (not just throw technology at the problem!). OK – I probably went a step to far with that one, but you hopefully get the point.

    The solution may be to improve the manual work flow, changing an intake form, or any number of other steps that can greatly reduce the amount of valueless steps in the processes!

  5. doug goldberg says

    Remind me not to post from my cell phone again.

  6. doug goldberg says

    All
    Thanks so much for all the fantastic follow up comments both on the post and for outer reader. A coupler of themes have emerged that bear mentioning. First, we can see that it is easy to get lost in what we do and miss opportunities to realize how transferable those skills are in situations that might be completely current on the surface. For instance, before computers came around there was manufacturing. There was always a ton of process identification, development, and improvement to make those prices work better. The same concepts guide much of the tech works today.

    Second, we also saw several of you post about the importance of analysis in thee non-profit sector and the lack of resources available to perform these tasks. So keep your eyes out for roles in this area in which you can provide value to both your self and an organization.

    Thanks again!

  7. mike Lachapelle says

    Let me echo Doug’s comments about business analysis skills and their applicability in the not-for-profit sector. I would also encourage the reader to see beyond the IT domain and look at how many of the BA skills support program development. Feasibility studies, process management and enterprise analysis (business architecture and business design) are all tasks singularly suited to business analysts.

    I agree with Doug’s comment about the skills not being context specific to the profit/private sector domains. Many public sector (not-for-profit, government, social funding) organizations need the support of good business analysts and very rarely have the internal resources to support this kind of specialized knowledge.

  8. I run a nonprofit organization and found this website while trying to write a job description for a Business Analyst I need to hire. It’s a rare position in a nonprofit, especially smaller ones, but absolutely necessary. Probably more so than most nonprofits realize. Honestly, the entire analysis landscape (data, operations, etc) should be a growing field, particularly with new software becoming available to help make it easier and more cost-effective to do.

  9. Eric Shayne Elliott says

    Great question, great response. Reader, something else to consider is that while business is always trying to do more with less, especially in today’s economy, non-profits are trying to do more with nothing. Analysis is the key. Your ability to close gaps in process making staff for efficient or identify software that can make a staff more productive or (insert next item here)… can literally impact lives. With that said, be aware, you might just find yourself hooked on helping others. 🙂 Good luck and many opportunities your way!

  10. Hi Reader! I worked for the American Heart Association for nine years as a strategic consultant, project manager, app dev manager, and yes… a business analyst! They have a group of BAs that provide the same services that BAs in the for-profit world provide. I know that other, large NFP organizations do as well. There are careers to be had, and your NFP background will serve you well. Best of luck on your journey, and keep us posted!

    -Mary

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