How to Write a Needs Statement for Grants
Everyone has a good idea — but not all ideas are fundable, and not everyone has the commitment to succeed in grant application writing.
Any quality grant application will first begin with an urgent need and then a project idea to meet that need. It is important to understand the specified need drives the activities of the grant proposal. And it is the urgency and caliber of this need that will get the idea funded.
In order to ensure grant success, you must ensure that your urgent idea fits the basic need of the funding agency, conforms to their mission statement, and that others, besides yourself, think that your idea is fundable.
This article will discuss what is a needs statement in grant writing, why needs statements are important for your proposal’s success, how to get started writing, and examples and templates for needs statements.
What is a Needs Statement in Grant Writing?
A needs statement for grants is the underlying problem or issue within your community that your application will address. The statement of need is also commonly known as the problem statement, need statement or needs assessment.
The statement of need is critical to communicating the significant and urgent need to the funder. It establishes the focus and rationale of your larger grant application. By the end of the needs statement, the reviewer should have a clear understanding and recognition of the underlying problem, not just its symptoms.
Why are Needs Statements Important for Your Proposal's Success?
Your needs statement should establish that if the underlying problem or issue is not addressed, it will cause critical failure in your community.
As a grant writer, it is your job to establish the problem and current conditions within your community that you plan to address in your grant application. The needs statement for grants gives reviewers a sense of the scope of the problem and helps them to establish the relevance and importance of your grant application. It is also a prime opportunity to link the relevance of your grant application to the funder's mission statement and goals.
If your grant application lacks a compelling, urgent need, your grant will be equally unimpressive. Again, it is the urgent need that will get the idea funded. The statement of need drives your grant proposal and outlines why the project must be undertaken. It also provides you with an opportunity to show why your organization is the perfect fit to address the urgent need.
At every point in your proposal, your application should showcase your organization's strengths to meet the need and solve the problem. Next, let’s explore what makes an effective needs statement that will improve the likelihood of success.
What Makes an Effective Needs Statement?
Strong Description that Gives a Strong Sense of Urgency
A compelling needs statement should read like a human-interest story that shows the grant reviewer a behind-the-scenes picture of a catastrophe, imparting immediate tragedy but also hope for the future. Try to put a face on the need and make the problem real and immediate.
Assume the reviewer does not know anything about the problem or conditions that drive the project. Describe why this issue is an urgent need, who else sees it as a problem, and what are the various community stakeholder views. Describe what will happen to the community, or those served, if the urgent need is not addressed. However, do not editorialize or provide emotional appeals—stick to the facts and describe the need in rational terms.
You have the Magic Solution
Reviewers are smart, intelligent people who have to read hundreds of applications one after another—your job is to make the reviewer's job easier by connecting all the dots and making it clear and easy to see that you have the magic solution to solving the detailed urgent need.
Depending on the funding opportunity, it is likely that every application in the reviewer's pile sounds alike and uses the same data—you need to stand out and catch their attention with clear and concise data, an urgent need, and a compelling solution that blends previous success with new innovative answers.
Recent, Reliable and Rich Supporting Data
An effective needs statement for grants clearly defines the problem with valid and compelling data. It is important to provide accurate and supporting statistics when describing the need. This will prove that someone other than you believes your need is a critical problem.
When identifying data, be sure you use comparative data. In other words, find data that provides an appropriate comparison (apples to apples) within the community and at the national level. Identify your target population and ensure all of your data is looking at that same populace. Look for the most recent datasets that are available to ensure recent and timely updates with downward trends. Consider data bias and reliability when comparing sources to ensure that you have quality information to support the urgent need you want to address.
Data can be found across many different sources, including federal and state agencies, demographic information clearinghouses, scholarly journals and articles, and industry publications. Look at recent local surveys or needs assessments. Talk with local colleges, universities, and libraries about public data sets. Approach regional planning committees or development councils to see what data might have been collected. Consider using Google Scholar as a starting point to find high-quality data sources. Focus on data that compares, describes, predicts, or explains your urgent need. Furthermore, when searching for data, consider both quantitative (mathematical numbers and facts) and qualitative data (stories, interviews, and open comments).
Implications and Importance of the Problem to the Wider Community
An effective needs statement describes the implications and importance of the problem to the wider community.
Describe the cost to the community — and society as a whole. Explain previous and current challenges in addressing the need. Then, illustrate the gap between the current situation and the desired state. Be sure to state all of the various factors that have prevented a sustainable resolution of this urgent need, and then describe why this problem needs to be addressed now. Lastly, include what is currently being done.
Connecting Your Mission to the Funder's Mission through the Needs Statement
An effective needs statement relates the funding application to both your and the funder's mission.
Describe why external funding must be used in order to meet the urgent need, solve the problem, or reduce the gap. Make sure that you address the urgent need locally and on a wider scale — use data to show the problem on each level. Do not assume that national issues are automatically an urgent local need—find the data to back it up. Focus on describing what could be accomplished within the given funding timeframe, and then briefly detail an action plan that focuses on achievable and measurable goals to meet the specified need.
A word of caution:
Do not confuse your business needs with the urgent need of your target population. Your grant application and your statement of need should focus on the community of interest.
Remember, it is the urgent need that will get the idea funded.
Show the impact of the urgent need in your community or region.
Related Gaps (Not Just Symptoms) Turned to Opportunities
And, finally, an effective needs statement shows the gaps in the current system that provide opportunities for progress.
Use deductive reasoning to show what has not been discussed in the literature or within the community – what has not been addressed and missed. Describe important gaps within the current system that could be leveraged to create sustainable change. Set the stage for your grant application to show that your proposed grant will fill the gap and meet the urgent need.
When stating the related gaps, be sure to avoid circular reasoning, where the absence of your solution is the problem. Circular reasoning is claiming that the absence of your proposed solution is the actual problem.
For example, "Our problem is that we have no health center. The solution is to build a health center." Firstly, in this example, it is not clear how you know that the absence of a health center is truly an urgent need, nor is it specified how you plan to uniquely tackle this lack. An effective needs statement for grants does not frame your solution as an urgent need — it separates and fleshes out the two.
Good vs. Bad Needs Statement Examples
Effective needs statements are incisive (stay on message), inclusive (contain all the required parts), and intelligible (the urgent need is based on logic and fact). Reviewers should feel a real sense of urgency and feel compelled to act immediately to solve this urgent need. Your job is to make the reviewer feel that you have the magic solution, but this problem will persist and deteriorate without their immediate support.
Included below are examples of a bad, better, and best statement of need along with the clear examples of how the bad and better statements could be improved, and what makes the best statement the strongest example.
Bad Statement of Need Example
"Our middle-schoolers have limited access to educational resources. Mostly from low-income households, the neighborhood is, in general, very corrupt. With just a single after-school program that is well attended, we need more resources to reach more of these students. Please help us educate our youth."
Why this needs statement is bad:
- No data or evidence
- Emotional appeal rather than rational
- How do you know these students are mostly from low-income families?
- How do you know the neighborhood is “corrupt in general"?
Better Statement of Need Example
"According to the National Education Foundation, 46% of middle school students nationally do not have access to after-school programs. In our state, that statistic rises to 57%. Moreover, our state education budget is being cut by 22% this coming year. These are devastating trends that the middle-school students in our community must be able to overcome."
Why this needs statement is not the best:
- Does not focus on local conditions—is there an after-school program or other resources in the community?
While this statement still lacks a focus on location conditions, it does provide supporting data and discuss trends in the field. However, additional information on the local problem would make this statement much stronger.
Best Statement of Need Example
Approximately 3,600 middle-school foster children do not have access to after-school programs in Missouri each year, and many youths find themselves tottering on the brink of lifelong poverty on account of unhealthy behaviors and attitudes learned from their environment. "They are, in fact, the most at-risk youth in the state and those most likely to consistently fail...their risk is the greatest; their adversity is most profound, and their present and future costs to our community is the most significant." (RWD Foundation).
Owing to a lack of services personalized to their needs, many of our middle-school foster youth are at risk of becoming homeless. Studies show that 29-53% of middle-school foster youth live below the poverty level. (U.S.D.H.U.D.). Another issue plaguing Platte City communities is the tendency for young people to become involved in highly dangerous and illegal underground economies. The draw for these disenfranchised youth is a lucrative way of making money that provides a sense of "street credibility" without working for individuals who are not culturally in tune with the aspirations and desires of these young people.
Project Rescue is designed to provide a supportive environment that will offer the sense of autonomy and self-worth at-risk youth desperately seek while providing a foundation for academic distinction and leadership. With your help, our program will be able to assist at-risk youth in making healthy, productive decisions, by providing them with tools to complete their education. Youth participating in our program will unlock their unique entrepreneurship creativity, gain a greater understanding of the free enterprise system, improve their quality of life, and dare to prepare for promising futures.
Why this needs statement is the best:
- Clearly and concisely defined the need in a simple and easy to read way.
- Documented the need with well-supported evidence.
- Focused on the people to be served, rather than the organization's needs.
- Included project impact as a result of the application.
How to Get Started Writing a Good Needs Statement
In order to get started writing a good needs statement, consider answering the following questions:
1. What is the urgent need that your project will address?
- Is it a serious problem or a lack of service that is needed?
- Who is impacted by the problem and how?
- What are the facts and sources that substantiate the urgent need for your project?
- Can you put a human face on the problem by telling a story, using an example or quote?
2. What is your solution to the urgent need?
3. What will the world look like after your project is completed?
2 Needs Statement Templates and Examples
Now that we have explored a clear example of what makes a bad or a good statement of need, it is time to begin writing your own statement of need. Below are included two different templates for a statement of need. There are two templates included, depending on the nature of your application.
The first needs statement template is provided for applications that are a single time-sensitive one-time project (not a stepping stone project to a larger plan). This statement of need example is best for mission-based nonprofit organizations.
The Time Sensitive Application
The second needs statement template is provided for applications that are the first step towards a larger project—a stepping stone project to a larger strategy. The goal of this application is to gain funding for this one project and retain the funder for more projects and for many years to come.
This statement of need example is best for highly integrated collaborative teams for addressing an ambitious and challenging project that a single application cannot address.
Next Step in a Larger Goal Application
Recap of Top Tips for Writing a Needs Statement
The Needs Statement Drives your Entire Proposal.
In order for your grant application to be successful, you need the funding reviewer to clearly understand the urgent need that you are attempting to meet—the problem you are trying to solve—and you need to be able to clearly back it up. Writing the needs statement should be your first step in grant writing, and all parts of your grant application connect back to the needs statement story.
A poorly written statement of need puts the entire grant application in jeopardy, as it often leaves reviewers with too many unanswered questions and a lack of urgency. A compelling, concise, and effective needs statement establishes a grant application's rationale by clearly identifying the urgent need or unmet problem within your community.
Focus on One Main Underlying Issue.
There are likely many concerns and issues within your community that your organization is trying to address. However, your statement of need must emphasize one single central concern. Do not get distracted by small, contributing problems. Sort out the urgent central need that you will address. Do not get distracted by symptoms of the central unmet need.
For example, the fact that the unemployed homeless don't have effective resumes and may lack interview skills, although important and may be addressed inside the program, are not central concerns. Find the baseline underlying need that, if not addressed immediately, will cause indeterminable damage to the community.
Use Comparable Data and Statistics to Define the Need.
An effective needs statement clearly defines the problem with valid, accurate, and compelling data. Use both quantitative and qualitative data to tell the story of the underlying need in your community and how your proposed solution will meet that urgent need. Use both national and local data to show that the problem is focused and evident locally. Do not assume that national trends are relevant to local neighborhoods—demonstrate a clear need and the urgency of the problem by highlighting local trends over the last year.
Tell a Compelling Human-Interest Story.
The needs statement should be balanced with reliable data and authentic emotion. Show the reviewers the true story and how the unmet need is affecting real people. Try to put a face on the need and make the problem real and immediate. Describe what will happen to the community or those served, if the urgent need is not addressed. Be honest about the challenges your target population is facing by sharing testimonials that are related to the heart of your community. However, do not get carried away or make emotional appeals—stick to the facts and describe the need in rational terms.
Include Potential Problems and Solutions.
In every grant application, there are potential hurdles or challenges in addressing your urgent need or problem. It is your job as the grant writer to address those obvious concerns for the reviewer. This may include highlighting barriers that have hindered a resolution of the central need in the past, or challenges that your grant application proposes to meet in new and innovative ways.
It is important to show what has or has not worked in the past, and how your program will incorporate that history of problem-solving. Don't reinvent the wheel—if something has worked well in the past for your community or for counties in proximity, highlight the continued use of those resources in your proposal. These facts will help the funder to understand the true impact their investment can make in your community.
Wrapping Things Up: How to Write a Needs Statement for Grants
A compelling needs statement presents unmistakable data and profound stories of real people to establish the focus and rationale for your grant application. The needs statement sets the attitude for the rest of your proposal and provides the opportunity to demonstrate that an urgent need exists in your community and that your organization's solution will make a difference.
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