by Terry Linhart

“I don’t know of any other group that does what you do.”  That’s what a leader of an international ministry organization recently said to me as we talked about their future research needs. I’m sure there are some groups that do similar work (since there are so many consultant groups out there), but I couldn’t quickly name one. Not only do we use quantitative approaches, it’s our qualitative expertise that sets us apart.

For nonprofits, churches, and Christian ministries, the Arbor Research Group possesses a unique combination of research expertise, personal leadership experience, and an established international reputation for excellence.

It was his “what” that caused me to pause after we hung up the phone. Though research and consultant groups abound, I knew what he meant by the “what you do.” It referred to our skill to travel and get down to street level, sit face to face with those on the front lines, discover the answers to difficult questions, and coordinate a rigorous and systematic analysis that gives confidence to the findings and recommendations. Matched with strong survey data, we can provide clients with a comprehensive report on a long list of questions that has been troubling for a long time.

So often we leaders sit in the corner office or board room and ask “how we’re doing?” The problem is that this isn’t easily answered given our already-stretched time commitments and the ever-present bias and protectiveness that our people will have in answering that question. Seriously. Sometimes the answers will affect someone’s job descriptions. More often than not, the questions are unanswered because we don’t know how to find out … or we think that we can’t really find an answer to them.

It’s easier to answer the question by looking to the bottom line – the numbers that show how many people we’re reaching, the amount of profit we’ve made, or a simple comparison of this year to the previous.The bottom line doesn’t tell us about quality. The bottom line doesn’t tell us why. The bottom line doesn’t peak into the future.

The bottom line doesn’t tell us about quality. The bottom line doesn’t tell us why. The bottom line doesn’t peak into the future.

What we do

The team I’ve assembled here at Arbor is diverse, skilled, and accomplished at using a variety of mixed methods. Where they shine is doing this thing that I’ve been calling “street level,” research that matters with the people that matter in any organization, church, or business. Though the Arbor Group engages in executive and board-level consulting and conducting surveys through our call center and online survey software, it’s when we strap on our backpacks, fly into a city, and sit face-to-face with others (matched with systematic analysis that eliminates bias) that we distinguish ourselves.

Many want to consult from a distance – and we can do that. However, the Arbor Research Group team likes to jump in, join you in your work, and help you grow in fulfilling your mission. And we do that by showing up, learning who you are and your particular values and purposes, and then matching those with our expertise and skills. And our clients love it. In fact, we usually get hired on to stay around for a follow-up project.

The 3 Surprising Benefits for Focusing on your Front Line

We’ve spent the last few weeks wrapping up another project. The client’s comments echoed what we’ve heard before and they made me think that there are some obvious benefits for work like we do.

  1. It Explains the Bottom Line. For every digit on the bottom line, there is meaning and value associated with it for someone. If you lead a nonprofit or ministry, it’s a human enterprise. Good research connects those personal dynamics to your numbers in very helpful ways for future decision-making, potential cuts, and resource allocation.
  2. You Learn about your Interface with “Customers.” More than marketing research, a street level study reveals nuances, dynamics, and dimensions for the number. There are ranges and categories for how people interface with your work. When we learn that an “if/then” dynamic exists, we can then shape our work in ways to get better results!  And, for a lot of our work in nonprofit and ministry settings, that’s worth our best effort and resources to get there.
  3. The Consulting Group becomes an Ally in Leadership. Often I will hear someone say “that wasn’t so bad” when we’re done with an interview or focus group. We think research is clinical, and often in nonprofit organizations, we get really nervous when outsiders look over our shoulder. Yet, if done gracefully, consultants who take the time to learn the ethos, carefully work in from the edges of the situation, and listen well end up being allies. They’ve done the work necessary, sometimes more work than many of our own front line people!

In an age where a consultant groups cost us less than full-time workers, it’s important to find groups who care for our work as much as we do. It’s especially true when we’re all super-lean in our leadership structure with people who already feel stretched thin for their time each week. We pay careful attention to how we begin and end projects while caring for our clients in the middle. It’s our “pastoral” approach that often makes the data collection process as helpful to our clients as the findings are.

If you have an idea for a project and want to discuss how we might be able to help you, drop us a line and we can set up a time for a phone call. We work to ease the stress on you while providing expert perspective as you lead your group forward.