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In winning a grant, obtaining useful data for defining problems and needs is crucial. Such data form the basis for much that follows in a competitive grant proposal.


Although a grant writer may be expected or required to do it solo, assessment of needs is often far more fruitful if it involves as many diverse sources of information as time permits.


Among the many (sometimes overlapping) facets of assessing needs are:

  1. Why it is done (purposes)
  2. What is already at hand to do it (considerations)
  3. What must be done to augment what is at hand (tasks)
  4. How it can be done (approaches)


Purposes of Doing a Needs Assessment:

  1. Clarify the nature and extent of the problem to be solved
  2. Substantiate the existence of a problem requiring a solution
  3. Focus resources on well-defined problems that amenable to solution
  4. Create a basis for a logic model and a work plan to address needs/problems


Considerations in Defining Problems and Substantiating Need:

  1. Extent of available data
  2. Quality of available data
  3. Nature or types of available data
  4. Degree of access to sources of available data
  5. Recentness of available data
  6. Degree of access to reviews of scientific research literature


Tasks in Doing a Needs Assessment:

  1. Decide who is to participate in the assessment process
  2. Establish a rationale for doing the assessment
  3. Create a timeline, a schedule, and a task analysis for assessing needs
  4. Identify and collect sources of pertinent data
  5. Analyze existing data sources and extract relevant data
  6. Select the most useful data from all that is already available
  7. Create instruments for generating current data if none exists
  8. Use the new instruments to generate current data
  9. Collect and analyze the scientific research literature
  10. Monitor quality, privacy, consent, and confidentiality in collecting data
  11. Discuss progress of needs assessment with key stakeholders
  12. Review findings of needs assessment as a team or task force
  13. Draw conclusions about the magnitude, nature, and scope of needs


Approaches to Assessing Needs:

  1. Ad hoc survey of intended beneficiaries (e.g., students, librarians)
  2. Ad hoc survey of stakeholders in the larger community (e.g., parents, faculty)
  3. Ad hoc survey of local or regional service providers (e.g., hospitals, childcare agencies)
  4. Ad hoc focus groups or charettes or similar public forums
  5. Analysis of data collected from existing instruments (e.g., arrests, state-mandated tests)
  6. Analysis of data generated from new instruments (e.g., ad hoc library surveys)
  7. Analysis of content of questionnaire responses and similar instruments
  8. Review of published needs indicators (e.g., social, economic, educational, labor, crime)
  9. Solicitation of data and other inputs from partner organizations
  10. Solicitation of data and other inputs from sources within the applicant organization
  11. Solicitation of data and other inputs from other service providers
  12. Interviews with subject area experts and key stakeholders

This is one in a series of posts presenting sample elements of a possible proposal. In their illustrative details, its contents are both fictional and factual; however, its overall approach has won grants for similar purposes.


Audience Needs. Test data for each school indicate that from 20% to 65% of students in grades 6-12 are performing below grade level on annual performance assessments in Science and from 17% to 45% of the same students are not meeting state academic standards in Science.


Surveyed teachers agree that their students need more structured opportunities for connecting what they learn in the classroom to life in the community and for exploring environmental careers. Teachers also agree that they need training in standards-driven, interdisciplinary, experiential, and inquiry-based conservation and environmental education programs and in ways to integrate them in their existing Science curricula. Community members express concern about the health of the Saco River Watershed in letters to area newspapers and individual participation in extension service and regional water quality monitoring programs.


Participant Recruitment. Teacher and student participants will be recruited in each district using notices on district Web sites, ads in school newsletters, posters at schools and other public facilities, word of mouth, staff meetings, community notices, and staff mailbox inserts.


Incentives. Incentives for teacher participation will include: training contact hours (professional development points), carry-away materials for use in classrooms (e.g., lesson plans, kits, and handbooks), waiver of training registration fees, mileage reimbursements, release time to participate in training, opportunities for collegial and community networking, and certificates and other public recognition for participation. 

While planning a competitive proposal, it may help to think about Need – and the Data to demonstrate it – in terms of several simple questions and your answers to them.

  1. What?  A need is a specific situation or condition that you want to change.
  2. Who?  A need relates to a specific population that will benefit from the change.
  3. Where?  A need exists in a specific place.
  4. When?  A need exists at a specific time.
  5. How?  A need can be documented with qualitative and quantitative data.


Using Data to Demonstrate Need:

Many kinds of data provide evidence of a need (or a problem). The evidence you present to a grant maker should support the focus, scope, and rationale for each specific proposal.


The table below sorts types of data useful specifically for Education Grants in terms of indicators, data sources, and American public school grade levels (prekindergarten through high school). The plus (+) and minus (-) indicate a desired direction of change in the indicator.


Potential Indicators of Need Data Sources Levels


Preschool participation rates Annual reports preK

Developmentally delayed rates Annual reports preK-1


Results in all academic subjects Annual CRT results K-12


Annual NRT results K-12


Portfolios/assessments preK-12


Periodic report cards preK-12


Attendance rates Attendance reports preK-12

Absenteeism rates Attendance reports preK-12

Short-term suspension rates Suspension reports K-12

Long-term suspension rates Suspension reports K-12

Code of conduct infractions Suspension reports K-12

Student legal infractions Suspension reports K-12

Juvenile delinquency rates Police statistical reports K-12

Gang affiliation rates Police statistical reports K-12


Extracurricular participation rates Program records preK-12


Parents’ school participation rates PTA participation rates preK-12


Parent-teacher records preK-12


Parents’ school satisfaction rates Transfer-out reports preK-12


Parent contact records preK-12


Parent surveys preK-12

Grade retention rates Membership reports preK-12


Computer availability/use Site technology surveys preK-12


Internet availability/use Site technology surveys preK-12


Software availability/use Site technology surveys preK-12


Gifted/talented placement rates GT enrollment records 3-12

English language learner rates ELL enrollment records preK-12

Dropout rates Dropout reports 6-12


High school completion rates Graduation reports 11-12


AP/IB participation rates AP/IB records 11-12


AP/IB program results AP/IB test reports 11-12


Post-graduate educational plans Annual surveys 11-12


Curricular program options Comprehensive plans preK-12


Professional development options Comprehensive plans preK-12


Staff degrees earned Personnel records preK-12


Staff certifications/credentials Personnel records Adult


Adult literacy rates Program enrollments Adult


Census Bureau reports


Beyond those types cited in the above table, among other possible information resources useful for substantiating needs for Education Grants are:

  1. Site-specific improvement plans
  2. Organization-level comprehensive plans
  3. Technology plans
  4. Long-range strategic plans
  5. Vision and mission statements
  6. Annual reports on programs and finances
  7. State and federal legislative records
  8. State and national educational standards
  9. State and national policy statements and position papers
  10. Local, state, and federal agency reports/studies
  11. Professional (peer-reviewed) research literature
  12. Meta-analyses of research studies


This is one of an anticipated series of posts on finding and using data to plan proposals and win competitive grants.

A need is a specific situation or condition that an applicant wants to change. Establishing need is essential. In the aggregate, needs often drive the design of an entire project or initiative – objectives, activities, strategies, evaluation, personnel, resources, and budget.


Shortfalls in local funding seldom prove need. Even in seeking funds from private grant makers for capital campaigns or endowments, an applicant has to explain how more funding would enable it to address specific unmet (and non-financial) needs.


A Need Assessment (or Problem Statement) often moves from the general to the specific, from theoretical research to actual practices, and from a national or state context to its local instances. Each individual element of need presents evidence of a larger problem (or an undesirable condition or situation).


Assessments of need furnish recent or current data to document a problem. The data selected as evidence of need usually imply that a specific population (or target audience) will benefit from a specific grant. The data used to describe the needs in a proposal often will form a baseline for later comparisons after funding.


In ordinary practice, an organization’s general decision that certain activities and objectives are desired to address a familiar problem may precede any effort to document specific needs.


Describing Needs


In considering a proposal’s Assessment of Need, several questions prove useful:


Objectives: What does your evidence of existing needs imply for your proposal’s goals and objectives? In what areas should you focus your efforts and resources?


Activities: What activities will reduce or eliminate your identified needs? In what logical sequence must such activities occur?


Benefits: What effect will a project or initiative have on existing conditions? What kinds of benefits do you foresee after it ends? Who will experience such benefits and by what time?


Evaluation: How will you measure whether needs have changed? What indicators or benchmarks will you use to measure progress in reducing or eliminating needs?


Personnel: Who should help in reducing or eliminating identified needs? What new or existing positions or organizations could offer such help? Who needs to be on board and by when?


Budget: What will it cost to reduce or eliminate identified needs in the time available? What sources of funding are available for these purposes?


Capacity: Is your organization able to address the identified needs on its own? Does it have experience in doing similar projects or initiatives or in managing comparable grant awards?


This post is one in a series about questions useful in planning competitive grant proposals.

Competitive grant proposals often survive or perish based on the quality of data they use. In the American context, among reliable sources of data for grants in Health and Justice are: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics.


Health Statistics:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Data and Statistics site provides a vast searchable database at national, state, local, tribal, and territorial levels. It offers many kinds of tools and resources including a 33-topic breakdown of data and statistics and an A-Z index of health-related topics.


Juvenile Justice Statistics:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation publishes a wealth of data about violent crime and property crime in the nation. Its annual publication, Uniform Crime Report, compiles volume and rate of crime offenses for the nation, the states, and many cities and counties. It also includes arrest, clearance, and law enforcement employee data. Also useful to grant applicants is its annual Crime in the United States.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has many tools and databases useful to organizations seeking grants in law enforcement and juvenile justice. Among them are: data collections in the topics of corrections, courts, crime types, criminal justice data improvement, law enforcement, and victims, as well as four data analysis tools. Two of the potentially most useful resources for grant seekers are the site’s A-Z topic list and the Uniform Crime Reporting Data Tool.

This post is one in a series about sources of data for use in winning competitive grants. All links were current as of the date of posting.

Competitive grant proposals often survive or perish based on the quality of data they use. In the American context, among reliable sources of data for grants for K-12 Education are the Institute of Education Sciences, the National Center for Education Statistics, Find Youth Info, the Education Resources Information Clearinghouse, and ERIC Digests.


Education Statistics:

The institute of Education Sciences’ Common Core of Data collects fiscal and non-fiscal data about all public schools, public school districts and state education agencies in the United States. The site includes the user-definable Elementary/Secondary Information System. Among the resources available are descriptive information about students and staff, including demographics; and fiscal data, including revenues and current expenditures.


The National Center for Education Statistics’ annual Digest of Education Statistics provides a national context for local and state educational data. It covers the number of schools and colleges, teachers, enrollments, and graduates. It also spans educational attainment, finances, federal funds for education, libraries, international education, economic trends, population trends, attitudes on education, education characteristics of the labor force, and other topics.


Youth Development Programs:

For developing programs to benefit American youth, one resource is Find Youth Info, a site is designed to help youth-serving agencies to create, maintain, and strengthen effective youth programs. The site features facts about youth, funding sources, and tools to help researchers to assess community assets, generate maps of local and federal resources, and search for evidence-based youth programs.


Research-Based Rationales:

The Education Resources Information Clearinghouse’s searchable database collects publications of interest to grant applicants. They are particularly useful for developing research-based rationales and reviews of the literature. Many of the ERIC materials are peer-reviewed and are available as full-text PDF files.


Also of potential use to grant seekers is the searchable, collection of public domain, full-text education articles produced by the former ERIC Clearinghouse system and now preserved and made available at the non-federal site, ERICDigests.


This post is one in a series about sources of data for use in winning competitive grants. All links were current as of the date of posting.

Competitive grant proposals often survive or perish based on the quality of data they use. In the American context, among reliable sources of demographic data for grants are the United States Bureau of the Census, the National Center for Education Statistics, and the United States Library of Congress.


General Demographics:

For most grant seekers, the United States Bureau of the Census’s Population Finder is the single best place to look for current demographic data in statistical profiles of states and places in the United States of America. For researchers who need more detail, the Bureau of the Census’s American Fact Finder delivers more detail on more topics. Among its products are: the Decennial Census (every 10 years); the yearly American Community Survey; the yearly Puerto Rico Community Survey; the Economic Census (every 5 years); the inter-census Population Estimates Program; and the annual Economic Surveys.


School Demographics:

The National Center for Education Statistics operates a School District Demographic System. The invaluable site provides access to extensive and searchable data and statistics about demographics, social characteristics, and economics of children and school districts.


Links to State Data Sources:

The United States Library of Congress maintains a Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room, which is a large searchable database. Possibly more useful for grant seekers, it also presents links, sorted by states, to many state and county government websites and, thus, to their state-specific databases. Individual state, county, tribal, territorial, and city websites are also productive as points of access to current data and statistics.


This post is one in a series about sources of data for use in winning competitive grants. All links were current as of the date of posting.

Competitive proposal writing has two laws. The first law is to master the specific rules of every grant competition you enter. The second law is to observe those rules. Funded proposals obey both laws.

Sometimes you will find more funder guidelines available than you ever imagined: you will need to use all such rules as you structure your writing. Other times, you will need to structure your own proposals: you will need to know and apply the rules of proposal writing without having explicit guidelines.

In both situations, while remaining creative, innovative, research-based, collaborative, and cost-effective, you will need to answer basic questions. These questions embody the fundamentals of funding, the nearly generic guidelines for writing a successful grant proposal.

You can start by answering questions for each of six basic parts of most grant proposals.

Background Information:

Where are you located? How long have you operated? How big is your organization? What physical, human, and financial resources does your organization already have? Do you have a history of doing similar projects? What kinds of success have you had?

Needs Assessment:

What do you need? How do you measure what you need? What specific data substantiate your needs? What specific published research substantiates your needs? Does your project fit into any larger organizational plans to meet the identified needs?

Program Design:

What are your goals? What are your objectives? Who are your participants? What activities will your participants do? What strategies will you use? When and how often will key activities occur? What will make your project innovative? What will make it sustainable? What other organizations will work with you? What is your social marketing or dissemination plan?


Who will lead your project? Who else will play key roles? What are their qualifications? Will your personnel share or reflect your participants’ backgrounds? Will you use consultants and, if so, for what roles? Will you network with other service providers? Will your personnel or participants need any training? How will you conduct training? Who will report to whom?


How will you measure success? What will you measure? Will you evaluate outcomes for both process and product? How will you report your results? To whom will you report them? How often will you evaluate? With whom will you compare your participants? Who will be your evaluator and with what qualifications? With what audiences will you share your results?


How much will your project cost per participant? What will be your major budget items and costs? How much will project administration cost? What is your financial management plan? What other funding sources will you have and use? Will you share total costs with other organizations? How will you continue your project after your initial grant funding ends?

These are a few of the basic questions in writing a narrative for a grant proposal; there are others. If you’re able to answer them, you’ll be able to develop and present a compelling proposal for funding.

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