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This post is one of a series about what goes into proposals that win grants. Its topic is needs assessments. Its context is the United States of America.


Strong evidence of need for a project or an initiative can go a long way toward winning a grant. The methodical analysis of needs or problems in a needs assessment or a problem statement is critical to winning grants. Often such analysis occurs early in a proposal narrative. It sets the tone for what follows. The analysis makes the case that a problem or a need exists and it describes its nature and magnitude.




A needs assessment may use one or more of four types of evidence:

  1. Quantitative data – numbers or statistics
  2. Qualitative data – opinions or perceptions
  3. Limitations or gaps – differences or distances between actual and ideal states or conditions
  4. Evidence of unmet demand – shortfalls in supply to meet demand


In writing a needs assessment:

  1. Create context – the real background problem of which the applicant’s is a local case
  2. Use statistics to place the local problem in a larger context
  3. Describe why the real problem exists or characterize its specific causes
  4. Give a historical perspective on the problem’s growth or trends or cycles
  5. Define the problem’s (negative) impacts
  6. Define a specific problem for each major part or focus of a project
  7. Present data to support the definition of each problem
  8. Use tables (or other graphics) to present extensive numerical data


In presenting data in a needs assessment:

  1. Use fresh or recent data, not stale or obsolete data
  2. Use specific data, not general data
  3. Use local data, not remote data
  4. Use comparative data, not isolated data


The data selected and presented will underpin much of the overall proposal. Many proposal reviewers favor statistics or other quantitative data that are no more than 2-5 years old. Consider using surveys or other instruments to generate current data where otherwise none would exist.


A sophisticated statistical analysis of need is often useful, but is not always required. Always adjust such analysis to fit the requirements of the specific funding opportunity.



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