Step-by-Step Research Paper on a Non Profit
Why Research a Charity?
Writing research essays can seem a daunting process, and often seems like a dry exercise. I started teaching this unit on writing research papers about non-profits because I find that today's college students are passionate about wanting to help people and create positive change.
How to Choose a Topic: Pick a charity that you've already been involved in or choose one that works on a problem that interests you. Here are some questions to answer to help you choose:
- What volunteer work have I done in the past?
- Which problems most interest me?
- Do I know someone who is involved in a non-profit that I could interview?
- Is there a cause that I want to know more about?
Included in this Article:
Body Part 1: Describing the problem
Body Part 2: Organization Overview
Body Part 3: Evaluate Organization
Comparison with Survey and Annotation of Sources
Overview of Essay
Writing a research paper about a non-profit organization allows you the chance to incorporate a variety of evidence and perspectives. You will also do a variety of types of writing in the paper. Ultimately, your paper will be an evaluation of this non-profit, attempting to decide whether they fulfill the mission they have set out for themselves and whether they effectively serve their clients. Here is a basic description of the different parts of the paper:
- Description: Your introduction will vividly describe the problem, show why it is important to solve and explain how widespread it is.
- Exploratory: Explore the different positions on the problem. You will explore different views on one or more of the following: What is the problem? What is the history of this problem? What do people think about this issue? What are the views about the cause? What are the different solutions which have been suggested or tried?
- Profile or Explaining: Tell about one non-profit organization which attempts to solve the problem. You will explain what this organization thinks is the main cause of the problem as well as their method of solving the problem.
- Evaluation: You will evaluate how well the organization does at solving the problem. You can use criteria, opinions of different groups (volunteers, the organization leaders, people helped, the community), or a comparison with another organization who solves the problem a different way.
- Persuasive: Conclude with your personal response or plea to the audience (you will imagine an audience that is interested in either volunteering or giving money to this non-profit).
people in community
college students or young people
other organizations who can learn by this example
the organization itself (if you have ideas for improvement)
foundations or government agencies
people concerned by problem
someone who needs help on this problem
Your introduction needs to be directed toward the audience you plan to read your paper, so think about whether your audience is donors, volunteers, the organization itself or one of the other possibilities listed above. When you plan your introduction you want to think about your audience and also think about how you will conclude your paper.
Your introduction should describe the issue and the problem, perhaps ending with the question, "What is the best way to solve this problem?" Good ways to get your audience interested in your paper are to include:
- Story or vivid description of the problem to get your audience interested and sympathetic.
- How important is the problem? Give some statistics or information to show how big the problem is and to convince reader why we need to solve.
You might want to consider:
- What does your audience know about the problem?
- What does your audience know about your organization? What attitudes do they have towards it?
See the table below for creative ideas of how to do introductions and conclusions.
Introduction and Conclusion Ideas
start of real story
end of story
made up story about problem
conclude with solution
vivid picture of problem
vivid picture of solution
statistics about problem
how solution will solve
interesting quote or conversation
conclude conversation and do plea to reader
Your personal story
What you want to do now
story with bad ending
same story with good ending
expectations about problem or organization
how expectations were reversed or fulfilled
what audience knows about that organization
what audience probably did not know
a series of short stories illustrating the problem
a story showing how organization solves the problem
story of your experience with organization
how your experience helps you evaluate organization
vivid description of problem
appeal to reader to help solve problem
questions about the problem
answers to the questions
explain the quote
1. Body: Problem Exploratory
The next step should be to explain to the reader what the problem is. You will be exploring the rhetorical situation, audience, and positions on this problem. Here is how to organize this section easily:
First paragraph: Define the problem.If there is disagreement over the definition, then you can tell the different views about that.
Second paragraph: Analyze the rhetorical situation of the issue. Answer questions like the following:
- What is the problem?
- What is the history of discussion about this problem?
- What is the reason people are interested in this problem now?
- Who is interested in this issue and why?
- What current events affect the way people talk about this issue?
Third through fifth paragraphs:
Identify and summarize the major positions both past and present.The positions will probably be ideas about the cause of the problem and/or views about what to do about the problem. You should tell about at least 3 different views about the problems. You can organize this by using questions like the following:
Use Cause and Solution Questions:
- What causes this problem? What are the different views about the cause?
- What solutions have been suggested? What solutions have been tried?
- What groups believe in these different causes/solutions and why?
- What solutions have been effective? Evidence?
- One view on the problem is.... Or, some people think the cause of ___is ____and the solution is____. Example: Some people think that the cause of homelessness is drug addiction so they believe we need more drug abuse rehabilitation programs.
- Another view is...(Other people believe...). Example: Other people believe the most important cause of homelessness is actually just lack of housing, so to solve it we need to provide more low-cost or free housing.
- A third view is...
2. Body: Organization Overview
Next, you will explain one group which has tried to solve this problem, this is the non-profit charity. Your profile of this organization will be a definition or explain essay. Generally, you can use evidence from the organization's website for this section. If you are able to do a site visit and interview an employee that is also an excellent way to get evidence for this section
Transition to this section by indicating how your particular organization fits into the rhetorical positions you described above.
Example: One organization that tries to solve the problem of_____is____ The way they try to solve it is_____.
Format: How you organize this section will depend on what you find most interesting about your organization.You want to make this a vivid description for the reader so that they will feel like they have a good grasp of why this organization exists and what it does.
Content: Each of the following questions could be a paragraph you would include, but you do not have to do them in this order or cover all of the questions:
- What is the history of this organization? Who started it? When, where, how and why?
- Does it have ties to a national organization? Are there any unique local aspects?
- What is the philosophy of this organization?
- What are their claims about the facts of this problem?
- The causes? The best policy to create positive change?
- What does this group want to do?
- What are their goals?
- How to they seek to reach those goals?
- What programs to they offer?
- Whom do they serve? What are the clients like? Is there a typical client? Does this organization limit the scope of the clients they serve or is it open to anyone?
- Who supports and/or volunteers? What draws them to this organization?
- How is the organization funded?
- Has this organization changed over time? How has it changed? What sorts of changes would they like to do in the future?
- How do they measure the success of the program? Are there specific examples of change this organization has accomplished? Any failures?
Do not do your own evaluation at this time (save for the next section) but you can discuss how the organization self-evaluates. If you include a paragraph about this, it will be a nice transition to the next section.
3. Body: Evaluation
To evaluate, you make a value claim which judges whether something is good or bad, effective or ineffective. In order to do an evaluation, you need to first set up criteria for judging. You may want to start this section by asking the question: How effectively does _____solve the problem of _____?
Your thesis will answer that question.
Here are some sample evaluation thesis formats for evaluations that are mostly positive, mostly negative or mixed:
- Positive: _______is the most effective organization at _______. Example: Goodwill is the most effective organization at getting disabled people a good job.
- Mixed with positive emphasis: _____is effective at_____but could improve at_____. Example: Goodwill is effective at getting disabled people jobs but could improve their methods of sorting through donations and using their financial resources effectively.
- Mixed with a negative emphasis: _____is ineffective at____but good at______. Goodwill is ineffective at getting disabled people good jobs but good at helping people reuse and recycle things they would otherwise throw out.
- Negative: Although_____does do good in_____, it is not effective because_____. Example: Although many people rely on Goodwill for cheap used clothing and furniture, Goodwill is not effective at helping people get trained for good jobs because the training doesn't translate to other sorts of higher paying work.
- Comparison: _____is a better organization at solving the problem of _____than _____ because_____. Example: Christian Woman's Job Core is a better organization for solving the problem of getting people jobs than Goodwill because it helps to train people in skills that can translate into a variety of different jobs and also acts as a liaison between clients and people who own companies.
3 Ways to Organize
In organizing your evaluation, you can choose to discuss the positives and negatives based on criteria, perspectives of people familiar with the organization, or in comparison with another organization that tries to solve the same problem. All of the methods will require you to use standards or topics (criteria) for making your judgment. See examples in the table below.
Do they have good goals?
Do they do a good job raising funds?
Do they have good methods of self-evaluation?
Do they identify the most important cause?
Do they use their money effectively?
Is there statistical evidence their approach works?
Is their solution idea effective?
Is the ratio of money used for administration and fundraising too high?
How does program compare?
Do they try to do too much? too little?
Do they effectively serve as many as possible?
What do volunteers say?
Are they targeting the most important problem?
Do they use volunteers effectively?
Do clients have a positive experience?
Do their methods work?
How well does it use resources compared to other similar programs?
What is community opinion?
Do they have an end goal?
Does program have public awareness?
Are there stories of changed lives?
Organize Using Criteria
Use a list of criteria (see examples in table below) to organize this section, using one per paragraph and then telling how well the organization meets or does not meet that goal.
Example of criteria for evaluating a food pantry:
- Does it have broad support in the community?
- How many clients does it serve?
- Do clients seem to like and use the food given?
- What is the percentage of overhead costs vs. the amount that is given to the poor?
- Are there clear instances where the food made a difference in people’s lives?
Organize Using Perspectives
This method is particularly effective if you discover that there are differences in the way groups evaluate this organization, especially if one group sees the organization negatively. Here are the typical perspectives you can discuss:
- The Client the organization serves.
- The Donor or Volunteer.
- The Organization Leaders.
- The Community
Each of these perspectives may have a different view on how effectively this organization meets goals. You will want to set up your own criteria for judging the effectiveness of the organization but you can also talk about how the donors, clients, and the leaders view the effectiveness.The comments from these sources can be used to support or contrast your evaluation.
- The food pantry organization leaders might say they are successful because they serve a lot of clients.
- The clients may say they are unsuccessful because their criterion is the type of food they get and they don’t like what is provided.
- The volunteers might say that the food pantry is successful at providing food and that the clients are ungrateful.
- You might observe that allowing clients to choose their own food would make a more successful food pantry.
1. What are the opinions of volunteers?
2. Have the volunteer’s lives been changed?
3. Does it have broad community support?
4. How do the clients feel about how they are treated?
5. Do the clients feel the program works? Any changes they would like?
6. Are there individual stories of lives changed?
7. How do the directors of the organization evaluate success?
8. How do I evaluate the organization?
Compare and Contrast
To do this method, you will need to have at least one other organization which tries to solve the same problem but by another method (or perhaps they do the same thing but more or less effectively).
- Your claim statement would be:“Organization X is more/less effective at solving the problem of Y than organization M.”(You might want to add because... if you can think of a specific reason why one is better).
- You will then list how this organization is more or less effective and why.
- It may be that the evaluation will be mixed. One organization is better at some things and the other organization is better at other things.
- The ways that you compare them are the criteria in this organization method. You will devote one paragraph to each criterion describe how your organization compares to the other(s) in meeting that criterion and also evaluate why you think one organization does better.
Example: comparison criteria between a church food pantry and Caritas citywide food pantry:
- You can compare the number of clients served (Caritas serves more).
- How clients are treated (perhaps at a church food pantry the clients feel more like people and not a number).
- How clients feel about the food provided (perhaps the church food pantry lets them choose what they want rather than just accepting a bag of food).
- What is available to clients besides food (perhaps the church also provides help in finding jobs, emotional counseling, and money for bills, while Caritas does provide some money for bills but does refer clients to other services).
1. Which identifies the cause and solution best?
2. Which has the best method of solving the problem?
3. Which is most effective?
4. Which uses funds best?
5. Which helps more people?
Your conclusion should be one or more of the following:
- Personal Response. Your own response to this issue and the work of this organization (especially if this has caused you to want to work in this area in the future).You can talk about what you learned, how you felt, and what you personally want to do about this issue.
- Plea to Reader.A plea to the reader to care about this issue and perhaps join in the work of this organization.
- Suggestion for Organization. A suggestion for how this organization (or other organizations) could better solve the problem.
- Vivid Story. If you have one particular story you want to tell, which could be of your own visit to this organization or something you learn in an interview, you can use it as a frame story—part of it at the beginning and the final part in the conclusion.
Are you a:
What You Learn
Students today want to make a difference: I started teaching this unit for my research essay because I know that today's college students are passionate to make a difference in the world.
Learn where you can help now: Most of my students volunteer to work with the poor, elderly or children who need a mentor. I've found that most of the students who do this project have a renewed sense of mission, and many of them decide to give their time, talents and money towards helping the charity they investigate.