Our task wasn’t easy. As part of Drake’s Master of Communication Leadership (MCL) program, our class of 14 students was asked to propose, conduct, analyze, and present research for a local nonprofit.

The client was Best Buddies Iowa (BBIA), an organization dedicated to creating opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). BBIA organizes leadership development programs and one-to-one friendships between people with and without IDD to help participants build self-advocacy and communication skills and feel valued by society.

At the beginning of the semester, BBIA Director Blake Campbell presented to our class on the organization’s current state, its short- and long-term goals, and its obstacles. Armed with that information, as well as our own preliminary research, we decided to focus on four main areas:

  • Program analysis – To gain an understanding of BBIA programs, including challenges and opportunities.
  • Market analysis – To assess the current needs of individuals with IDD that might be met by expanded BBIA programming.
  • Brand awareness analysis – To gauge community awareness and opinion of BBIA.
  • Digital media analysis – To examine the effectiveness of BBIA’s website and social media in communicating its vision.

The class divided into groups to tackle these areas. Under the guidance of Matthew Thornton, assistant professor of journalism and mass communication, we conducted online surveys, in-depth interviews, and secondary research. Many of us even attended BBIA events to learn more about the organization.

Our efforts culminated with a 91-page, professionally printed report that we presented to the client, thanks to a mini-grant provided by Community Engaged Learning. We were able to identify key findings that will help inform decision-making at BBIA and take the nonprofit to the next level. These findings will also be crucial as we put together recommendations for BBIA in our capstone class next summer.

Overall, the research provided us with an in-depth understanding of BBIA. Along the way, we also learned about strategic research methods. We learned how to analyze data and summarize our findings. We learned about the value of teamwork, persistence, and effective communication.

When we hit walls, we resorted to back-up plans to achieve our goals. We utilized each student’s individual strengths to make the project succeed—from designing the presentation, to writing and editing the report, to creating a video for the client. Everyone in the class contributed in a unique way, and the process of organizing the combined efforts of 14 people helped build leadership skills.

I feel proud of what we did as a group this semester. It was gratifying to present research that will help BBIA continue its important mission and impact even more people with disabilities throughout the state. I can’t wait to see what we accomplish in our next class.


Written by: Kayla Choate