The needs statement is arguably one of the most important parts of a grant proposal. This section will either inspire your reviewer to fund you or pass you over for another program that addresses a greater need.
Of course, a proposal’s success isn’t based entirely on the needs statement. But if you can’t convey why your program or service is needed, you’re probably not going to be funded.
Here are four things every needs statement should have:
Your needs statement (and every other section of your proposal!) should be relevant to the funder and to your own organization. Here are three specific areas you should focus on:
The funder’s mission and priorities. The need you highlight in your proposal should be clearly relevant to the funder’s mission and priority areas. If a funder’s mission is to prevent child abuse, your needs statement should focus on the prevalence of child abuse and its contributing factors in your community.
It’s also important to consider a funder’s priorities, which are typically narrower in focus than their mission statement. Perhaps a funder’s priority area is preventing child abuse by raising awareness of the issue among school teachers. In this case, your needs statement should also include information highlighting the lack of training opportunities on child abuse for local teachers.
The funder’s geographic scope and focus. The community you discuss in your needs statement should be within the funder’s geographic scope and, ideally, focus area. If it’s not, you’ve probably chosen a grant that isn’t the right fit for your organization. If you’re not sure how to pick the best grants for your organization, check out 8 questions to ask yourself before you apply for a grant.
Your own organization’s mission. Your needs statement should be directly related to your organization’s mission. For example, if your mission is to improve dental health outcomes, then your needs statements should always be focused on dental health. This may sound obvious, but when money gets tight, some organizations begin to mission creep in an attempt to find more money. Trust me, the person reviewing your application will see right through this!
Your needs statement must also have data that proves your community has a need. Competition for grant funding is fierce, so showing your community has the GREATEST need (with quality data!) is one of the best ways to stand out.
Most of the data in your needs statement will be secondary data (collected from an external agency, like the U.S. Census Bureau), but you’ll also want to include some primary data (collected from your agency). Examples of primary data include the number of clients served, participants’ demographics, survey results, or community needs assessments.
Whether it’s primary or secondary, your data should meet the following criteria:
Recent. The data you use should be the most recent data available. Your funder is going to want to know what the problems are in your community right now, not five or ten years ago. If the most recent data available is a little dated (three or more years), you may want to make a note in your narrative so your reviewer knows you’ve used recent data. You can add a brief note in parentheses, or clarify in a sentence (e.g., “Based on the most recent data available,…”).
Comparative. Data that only focuses on your own community at a single point in time lacks context and leaves potential funders unclear on the severity of your community’s need. Use data to compare your community’s needs to other communities, or to your own community’s historical data (or both). Here’s an example of a statement that uses comparative data:
Students in the Onslow School District have the lowest math proficiency scores in Florida. In 2017, only 43% of Onslow students were considered math proficient, compared to the state’s average of 82%. While math proficiency across the state has been on the rise since 2010, proficiency in the Onslow School District declined by 25% during the same time (FL Department of Education, 2018).
A note of caution: Always make sure you’re comparing the same data (i.e., apples to apples). The best way to ensure you’re comparing similar data is to pull data for all communities and time periods from the same source and dataset.
Reputable. Any data you use in your needs statement should come from a reputable source. These sources are typically national or international nonprofits or government agencies, such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation or the Department of Education.
Cited. Always be sure to cite any data you use in your grant proposals. This shows your proposal reviewer that you’ve done quality research and that the data you’ve presented are credible.
Not sure where to find quality data? Check out the Data section in our resource guide!
EMOTION (but just a bit)
Your needs statement doesn’t have to be full of data alone. You can also use emotion by including personal stories or quotes from participants your organization has helped. Just be sure to use your emotion sparingly. Emotion should be a nice complement to your needs statement data, not the entirety of your application.
Think about the most compelling appeals you’ve read or seen (think Sarah McLachlan’s SPCA commercial or UNICEF’s Save a Child campaign). Every successful needs statement, whether it’s in video or written form, contains urgency. Urgency is what solidifies the importance of the issue in a funder’s mind and compels someone to give.
In a grant proposal, one of the most common ways to convey urgency is to state what will happen if the need isn’t addressed now. For example, if you’re proposing to implement an afterschool program in an underserved neighborhood to prevent gang violence, it’s reasonable to state that, without your program, youth will continue to spend their afterschool hours unattended, which will increase their risk of gang involvement (with data to back you up, of course!).
Okay, now you know what should be in a needs statement. Here’s the one major thing that shouldn’t be in a needs statement:
Circular reasoning is a type of non-sensical, logical fallacy. In a grant proposal, circular reasoning is when an organization focuses their need statement on the community’s lack of the proposed program, service, building, etc.
For example, if an organization wanted to build a free dental clinic and their need statement focused only on the fact that the community didn’t have a free dental clinic, that would be circular reasoning. Of course, they would want to mention the lack of free dental care. But most of their needs statement should focus on the percentage of uninsured in the community, poverty rates, prevalence of cavities, or visits to the emergency room for dental issues.