In order to be successful in grant writing, you need the funder to clearly understand the problem you are attempting to solve, and you need to be able to back it up. It’s this fact that makes a needs statement so important to the entire grant writing process. A needs statement drives the entire proposal. It defines the problem, describes the implications of the problem, and identifies the gaps in your community. When you begin the process of writing your next grant, the needs statement should be the place you start, and may be the section you spend the most time digging into.
Of course, all parts of a proposal are integral to telling your story to a funder, but the needs statement is really what makes the rest of the grant application relevant.
A poorly written needs statement puts the entire proposal in jeopardy, as it often leaves reviewers and funders with too many unanswered questions. Not knowing how to write a compelling, concise, and effective needs statement could lead to a lot of unfunded projects, so we want you to have the information you need to confidently and successfully complete a needs statement.
What Is A Needs Statement?
Before we go any further in unpacking some of the essential elements of a needs statement, it will be important to know exactly what is meant by this term, one that might also be referred to as a “problem statement.”
A needs statement establishes the rationale for a project by clearly identifying the gap or problem within a specific community.
A needs statement should determine the focus an organization will take by addressing the particular needs of a specific target audience through a very distinct project. The needs statement should also explain to a funder what the community requires or what it is lacking, and defines the underlying issues the applicant is addressing. Ultimately, the needs statement should answer the questions, “What is the problem or need?” and “How do you know it’s a problem?”
Why Is A Needs Statement Important?
A needs statement answers the “So what?” question. It should provide the funder with a reason to care and lets them know the issue being highlighted is significant and requires a solution.
While the needs statement identifies the problem in a community, it should also provide the funder with an understanding of the surrounding conditions in that community that are aggravating and heightening the problem.
4 Fundamental Features Of A Strong Needs Statement
Crafting a strong needs statement can bring increased levels of success for grant writers. Here are four key components to writing a needs statement that will make your reviewers take notice.
1. Focus On One Main Issue
It almost goes without saying that your community likely has a variety of concerns and issues it needs to confront. It may also be a fact that your program is tied to more than one specific problem. However, it is important that your needs statement focuses on a central concern, and not the issues on the periphery.
For example, if you are seeking funds to provide hands-on construction skills training for unemployed youth, your focus of your needs statement should be on the unemployment rate for youth in your community, the lack of local jobs for youth, and the link between skills training and later employment. Don’t spend too much time writing about the issues that are not the main concern. The fact that unemployed youth don’t have effective resumes and may lack quality interview skills, although important and may be dealt with inside the program, are not the core concerns.
Also Consider: As you write your needs statement, avoid the circular arguments that too many grant writers are guilty of in their proposal writing. The need for a skills training program for unemployed youth does not exist because there are currently no skills training programs for unemployed youth. That argument is not compelling for a funder. Also, link your program to the funder’s objectives. If your needs statement does not align with the goals of the funder, you may need to consider pursuing a different funding opportunity.
2. Use Data And Comparative Statistics
An effective and strong needs statement must resonate logically in a funder’s mind. The use of quantitative information, made up of the most recent, relevant, and local data you can find, provides an overview and snapshot of your community. Numbers, data, and statistics can paint a picture and tell an important part of the story in underlying the need for your specific solution. For example, it is very different to say that “many youth in Middlesex County find themselves unemployed,” than it is to write that “based on December 2016 stats, 12.5% of youth in Middlesex County aged 16 to 29 find themselves unemployed or underemployed compared to 9.5% in the surrounding counties.” The use of recent and relevant data reveals a much clearer picture of the problem.
By using comparative statistics, a grant writer could show the growing unemployment trend in the area by highlighting the increase in youth unemployment over the past 12 months, or could compare the unemployment rate in other counties in proximity. Use the data to demonstrate the need and the urgency of the problem.
Also Consider: As mentioned earlier, it is important for the data to be recent, relevant, and local. Using municipal data compared to national data will provide a clearer idea of the real problem in your specific community. Incorporating data from 2015 will hold more weight than sourcing statistics from 1999. The more focused the research is on the specific problem in your community, the more a funder will understand the true impact their investment can make.
3. Connect With The Heart
As much as funders will want reliable data and concrete logic in a needs statement, they are also human beings with authentic emotions. Make sure a funder understands the reality of the situation and how the problem in the community is impacting real people. Make it legitimate by telling a story or two. Use qualitative information from surveys, interviews, and ongoing interaction with clients and community members to share testimonials that relate to the heart and soul of the people you wish to serve and the problem that needs to be overcome.
Also Consider: Your needs statement needs a balance of qualitative and quantitative data. Don’t think that by simply pulling at a funder’s heartstrings your proposal will move to the top of the list. Be honest about the challenges your target audience is facing, but not at the expense of their dignity and value. Be prepared to show a funder a glimpse of the community you serve and the impact that will be made.
4. Highlight The Hurdles
One of the final pieces to include in a needs statement is a clear identification of the hurdles or challenges to addressing the problem. In your writing, leave some room in the overall statement to describe the gap that exists between the current state of the community and what the community would be in the future if solutions were implemented. You might also take the opportunity to feature some of the barriers that have prevented resolution of the problem in the past.
Also Consider: It is important for the funder to understand there is a sense of urgency related to the identified gap in your community. As you write, be sure to answer the question, “What happens if we don’t run this program now?” If the funder feels like your solution can wait, or that the need does not demand an immediate response, they will often seek other investments that do require funding immediately.
A Few Final Thoughts
If your grant proposal does not have a compelling need, it is likely that you don’t have a compelling project… or at least that’s what a funder might believe. Take the time to conduct strong research in order to present unmistakable data and profound stories of real people to establish the focus and rationale for your proposal.
Make sure your needs statement sets the tone for the rest of your proposal and provides the opportunity to demonstrate that a critical need exists in your community and that your organization’s solution will make a difference.