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The Needs Statement

The Needs Statement must convince a reviewer of need and invoke them to respond. The proposal must convey a sense of urgency and substantiate it with facts. The Needs Statement sets this tone. As a proposal writer, you must “give life” to the issue at hand. You must balance the math with the human condition. As a proposal writer, you can focus on several key strategies that support a quality Needs Statement:

Develop a System for Maintaining Information
Many funding sources request similar information. Target population, community demographics, and socioeconomic conditions are common components. I maintain a “needs folder.” It includes basic demographic information about the community. It also includes results from local needs assessments, environmental scans, etc. I also cite the appropriate source on the document.

Update Statistics and Figures Regularly
The Needs Statement must convey a sense of urgency. Using statistics from three years ago compromises your efforts. Identify sources for standard information (census figures, crime rates, etc.) and review them regularly. Agency derived figures can be updated annually. If your organization publishes this information in an annual evaluation or its annual report, reference this resource. Figures derived from constantly changing documents, such as waiting lists, should reflect the month the proposal is submitted.

Use National Statistics as a Lead for Local Figures
Unless your program is national in scope, convey need on the most local level possible. This is particularly important if you are requesting funding from a local resource. If you are writing to your local United Way, the fact that a woman is battered every seven seconds may be compelling but it fails to tell them the scope of the local problem. Use national statistics as a transition for local implications.

“Each year, over three million women are battered in our country. Last year, Our Town was home to 10,217 of those victims. They were mothers to 21,027 of the children in our schools. They worked in our businesses and attended our churches.”

Cite Your Sources
Compelling figures from questionable sources lack value. Failure to recognize the source also creates doubt. Always provide a reference for statistics. Not every source must be a formal study or national survey. Local needs assessments and agency tracking substantiate issues on a local level. Try to find balance between local figures and neutral sources. If the issue is truly a need, outside parties have also addressed it. Be wary of information found on the internet. The publishing of information does not confirm its reliability or accuracy. Always seek out the original source and ensure it is reputable.

Your Constituents Have Needs, Not Your Agency
A common mistake is to present issues in terms of the organization’s needs rather than the constituents served. Present your information in terms of those experiencing the problem. Rather than telling a funding source that Our Agency needs a Youth Offenders Intervention Program, frame the situation based on the needs of the youth, their families, and the community.

Let Your Clients Speak
Using quotes from clients can convey an immense amount of information in a small space. I have found that client testimonials say more in two sentences than I can in two pages. Use of testimonials conveys local impact effectively. If you are a social service provider, be sure to maintain the anonymity of the client. “I would not have left if it were not for the shelter.” 31-year-old mother of three.

Constantly Seek Opportunities to Identify and Substantiate Needs
The most compelling information comes from within the organization. Waiting lists, increases in service demand, and similar information represents pertinent data. Program directors may not realize the value of this information for the Development Department. Let your coworkers know what information is helpful and ask for copies of funder status reports.

Find Balance between Reality and Sensationalism
A fine line exists between conveying need and exploiting a situation. Conveying need should elicit emotion but not raise doubt. You must convey your issue without overwhelming a reviewer. I always seek the opinion of an objective third party. I will ask someone removed from the agency to review the proposal and specifically ask if it reads too much like a tabloid.

The Needs Statement lays the foundation for the rest of the proposal. It defines scope and establishes a pattern of need and response. The Needs Statement must succeed in capturing the attention of the reviewer and providing them with adequate information to support the approach you will use. As with any proposal, each funder will have unique needs. Knowing the basics allows the writer to create a response to funder need that is compelling, accurate, and balanced.

 

About the Contributor: Julie Bornhoeft

Julie Seewald Bornhoeft, MA, CFRE has been raising funds for nonprofit organizations for more than 13 years. Ms. Bornhoeft has extensive experience in funder identification, proposal development, grants management, and outcome evaluation. Her proposal development and grants management experience is balanced with experience designing and implementing comprehensive fund development plans for organizations with annual budgets ranging from $150,000 to $22 million.

Ms. Bornhoeft’s career has emphasized working with social service organizations with an emphasis on social change missions. She has successfully raised funds to address domestic violence, sexual assault, homelessness, hunger, youth services, youth development, and aging services.

Ms. Bornhoeft obtained the Certified Fund Raising Executive credential in 2001 and as Master of Arts in Philanthropy and Development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota in 2004. As a firm believer in the importance of continued professional development, Ms. Bornhoeft maintains a personal commitment to education through regular reading of materials regarding sector and societal trends, attending conferences, and writing in regards to fundraising techniques, trends, and opportunities.

Ms. Bornhoeft is currently employed as the Director of Development and Community Relations for WEAVE, Inc., Sacramento County, California’s sole provider of comprehensive services to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. In addition to her professional work, she is the current Past President of the California Capital Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and a member of the Sacramento Public Relations Association.

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