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How To Write A Nonprofit Needs Assessment

by Eric Nasalroad

How To Write A Nonprofit Business Plan: Lesson 3

In our last lesson, we took a closer look at how to describe your nonprofit in your business plan so others would have a clear picture of what you are trying to accomplish. This lesson serves as a basic template for creating your Nonprofit Needs Assessment, which will establish that there is an actual, measurable need you are addressing.

Many times, the nonprofit founder will feel the need before being able to measure it. This section of the plan will help turn that feeling into tangible data that proves the need exists.

Needs Assessment - nonprofit-needs-assessment

Describe The Need In Detail

What exactly are you trying to fix? This can be a broad problem, like cancer, or a specific one, like the difficulty of cancer patients traveling to and from a treatment appointment in a particular geographical area. Both are relevant, but you need to clearly define the problem you will address.

How do you know there is a need? Start by writing down your observations. Try listing the negative implications associated with the presence of this problem. How do people, animals, or society suffer because of this problem? Note the positive outcomes that are present when this need is addressed.

Quantify The Need

Can you count the instances you see of the need? For example, if the problem you want to address has to do with homes with no fathers in them:

  • How many of these homes exist in your area?
  • How many children live in homes without a dad?
  • How many homes turn into homes without dads each year?
  • What are some examples of negative effects? For example, “Children who grow up in homes without fathers are X% more likely to [insert social problem here].”

Needs Assessment - quantify-nonprofit-need

These are measurable things that quantify the need and give details about the implications. All of these things will help you to establish there is a need that should be addressed. They will also help when you begin to set goals for your organization.

Also, don’t forget to specify your servable area. Is it a certain zip code? Is it the city you live in? Is it a school district? A servable area can be as small as a neighborhood or as large as the world. Make sure you mention yours in this section.

Who Else Is Addressing The Need (In This Or Other Ways)?

There are many ways to tackle the problems that exist in our cities, country, and world. It helps to identify who else is fighting for the same cause in your servable area to identify gaps in service and decide if there are ways to work together so both organizations can be more effective.

Who else, in your servable area, is tackling the same issue you are addressing? In what ways do they try to address it? Using the above example, your method may be to offer free family counseling in hopes that parents stay together, thereby decreasing the number of fathers who move out of the home. Another nonprofit may offer free babysitting so parents have time to work on their relationship without having to worry about their kids 24/7. Another approach would be to focus on providing mentors to children already in fatherless houses. Each approach works toward minimizing the social problems that generally come about because of fathers being absent. They are slightly different than what you might do, but they are still relevant.

Who Are Your Clients?

Knowing who your clients are may be harder to figure out than you might think. We can point out social issues, but who you serve with regard to those issues may not be so clear. Plainly define who you are going to serve. In the example above, are you going to serve children who have no fathers in their households? Would you serve parents to prevent households from becoming fatherless? Would you serve mothers who are raising children on their own? Who you choose to serve will be important so you can stay focused on your nonprofit’s mission.

In addition to listing who you will serve, you’ll also need to count them. This can be slightly different from the information about the number of households without fathers. Let’s assume you have chosen children in households without fathers to be your clients. If you find out households without fathers have an average of 3.2 children living in them, you could then list the total number of children who live in a home without a father in your area.

Additional Resources

Are you curious to know if the need for a new program or service is tangible? Check out this needs assessment tool to find out if your need is significant enough to take action with a nonprofit. Also, read about why completing a nonprofit needs assessment is essential to your business plan.

What’s Next?

After reading the first three lessons in this course, you should now have a solid concept on paper of what your nonprofit is, what it does, and who it serves. Our next lesson will cover your products and services. Essentially we will look at how your nonprofit will meet the stated need of your assessment.

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Mitchell D Edwards January 24, 2021 - 4:46 pm

Hi, my name is Mitchell Edwards, and I am in the midst of starting a nonprofit. I found your article to be very informative. However, I have a question. How do you conduct a needs assessment when there are no community resources available that address the needs you are trying to address? If you would like I can provide further details. Thanks for all of your help.

Janie Richmond January 25, 2021 - 2:37 pm

Hi Mitchell,
Good question. It is common to not have research published specific to your issue. You may appreciate some of the ideas from this article for how you can get some third-party feedback on the size and scope of the need(s) you want to meet prior to launch: https://topnonprofits.com/needs-assessment-ideas/. Hope that helps!
– Janie


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