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What is a Needs Assessment and Why Do I Need One for a Nonprofit?

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Question: What is a Needs Assessment and Why Do I Need One for a Nonprofit?
Answer: Even though the goal for your new nonprofit is not to make a profit but to change lives, it is also a business. As such, it is important to adopt many business-like procedures. One of those is conducting a survey and/or other research before you launch a product or service. In the nonprofit's case, we call this a "needs assessment" to determine if there is really a need in your community for the services you propose to offer.

Here are some questions to ask during the needs assessment:

  • Is there another nonprofit that is providing or may provide the program or service you are considering?
  • Who is your audience? And, what is its demographic profile? Are they low income? Single mothers? Kids with AIDS? Are they senior citizens? Where do they live? How do they get around (public transport etc)? How many people are there who need your service?
  • What are this group's needs and desires? Conduct a survey of a sample group to find out what they are thinking. You may think they need one thing but they may actually need and want something else.

There are many ways to perform a needs assessment. You can gather data about the community and other nonprofit organizations that are working on similar problems. You can do an actual survey by phone, mail, or door to door, interview leaders in the community, and use focus groups. Using a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats), commonly used in business, can be useful and provides an easy-to-follow format.

The key is to find out if your proposed nonprofit is really needed. You would never start a business before determining if there was a market for your product/service. The same goes for a nonprofit. Ensure your eventual success by making sure the need exists and that you are likely to be able to fulfill it.

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