How To Perfect Your Needs Statement [With Examples]

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August 30, 2021

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October 19, 2023

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.

This article will explain 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.

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What is a Statement of Need in Grant Writing?

Grant Writing Needs Statement


Within a grant proposal, a statement of need outlines the compelling societal or community issue that an organization or project aims to tackle.


Crafted effectively, a needs statement emphasizes the urgency of the situation, underscores the existing gaps, and vividly portrays the tangible consequences of unaddressed needs.

This can also sometimes be called a problem statement, and essentially, they are the same thing. The main difference comes down to the root of the issue and your organization.

If there’s a human element to it, then it is a needs statement. If it’s more environmentally based and there’s no direct human element, then it will be a problem statement.

As you write your grant proposal, make sure that you title the section appropriately based on the application instructions to prevent confusion or potential disqualification for not following the requirements.

A succinct statement of need not only captures the attention of funders but also underscores the project's significance and potential positive impact. Your goal is that by the end of the needs statement, the reviewer should have a clear understanding and recognition of the underlying problem—not just its symptoms—and be inspired to be part of the solution.

Why are Needs Statements Important for Your Proposal's Success?

Importance of Needs Statements 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 an urgent need that will get the idea funded. The statement of need drives your grant proposal and outlines why the project must be undertaken.

Furthermore, it 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.

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What Makes an Effective Needs Statement?

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 in your grant proposal.

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.

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Tips for Writing Needs Statements

Grant proposals can be overwhelming, and it can be difficult to know where to begin to make yours stand out.

Here are some tips to help you write compelling needs statements that will grab the attention of funders:

Understand Your Audience


You need to take a step back and really understand your audience—and when it comes to your needs statement, that means the grant funder.

What do they stand for? What are they looking to accomplish? How can you help them further their mission?

Instrumentl has funder profiles that are helpful in giving you streamlined insights into different grant makers, reducing the time you need to search for information about them. For example, Instrumentl’s Giving by NTEE Code snapshots show you which types of work a funder has given to most.

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The more you can understand about a particular funder, the better and more targeted your needs statement can be.

Use Empirical Data and Research


Observational and anecdotal evidence is a great way to draw the reader in, but you need to use empirical data and research to back it up. This objective information can prove that what you are proposing is really needed. It’s not just something that you think is necessary.

Data and research communicate how well thought out your needs statement is and how it ties into the bigger picture. This kind of empirical research is really compelling for companies who are trying to expand their corporate social responsibility efforts and impact their communities in measurable ways.

Incorporate Beneficiary Voices


A great way to humanize a needs statement is to incorporate the real voices of people who have been impacted by your work.

They can speak to the real difference that you’ve made and how it’s changed their lives. These voices add dimension to your needs statement. They help funders see what you’ve accomplished and how they can be a part of growing your impact.

Address Potential Objections


When writing your needs statement, take a step back and consider potential objectives. Is there a way that you can address them?

For example, perhaps you want to solve hunger in your community. That’s a lofty goal, and some may wonder how what you’re doing in the short term will achieve long-term sustainability.

It doesn’t need to be in-depth, but by addressing these issues, you show funders that you are aware of challenges and have plans to address them before they even happen.

Highlight Proven Solutions


You have an idea of how you want to solve the problem or address the need. Your needs statement should be building toward this, so make sure you include why you are uniquely suited to provide the solution.

The funder has many applications, so why should they choose you? What can you do that’s different from others?

Crafting a compelling and comprehensive needs statement is one of the most effective ways to help your proposal stand out against the competition.

What Are the Components of a Needs Statement?

There are different elements that you should include in your needs statement. Here’s an overview, and we’ll walk through examples of how these elements play out in the next sections.

Introduction


Include a short introduction to set the scene.

It should be no more than a sentence or two, but you want to introduce the reader to the need. You can link it to a global or local need. Was there some catalyst that prompted you to start? You want to entice your reader from the first sentence, so make sure to catch their attention with a strong hook.

Description of the Problem


Next, go into a short description of the problem or need in the community. You don’t want to get into how you plan to solve it yet, so these should be objective statements about what you see as the need.

Relevance and Urgency


Why is the problem important? Is there a driving need for why it should be solved now?

Now that you’ve established the problem, you need to talk about why now—and why you are the organization to address it. Make sure to add data, current research, and other statistics to support your claims.

Local Context


Is there a tie to the community that you want to highlight? What’s the context? This part can help you establish the local impact, which will be critical as you look to engage funders who want to make a difference in their local community.

Beneficiaries


Who will benefit from this work? Are there community voices who have already benefited that you can highlight? This introduces a human element to your needs statement, so make sure you connect it to actual people.

Comparison With Similar Needs


Are there any similar needs that you’ve helped address? Or other community success stories when a need has been met?

When you’re writing your report, share how you’ll build upon the work that’s already been started and bring it to the next level or distinguish yourself completely. You need to acknowledge that you’re not the only one working on it, but you still have unique value to add.

Barriers to Addressing the Need


Be realistic about any challenges you will face or why this problem continues to persist—after all, if it were easy to fix, it wouldn’t be an ongoing issue!

If others have tried and failed, address how your approach will be different. This does not have to be a comprehensive list. It simply should address that there are challenges you may face.

Evidence-Based Solutions


Everything leads up to this piece: how do you plan to solve it. What evidence do you have to back up your claims? Use data to back up your needs statements where possible. You don’t have to have all the answers, but funders want to see that you have a clear plan about what you want to do.

Organizational Capacity


Why are you the organization to solve these problems?

Here’s where you tie your statement together about how you’re uniquely positioned to meet the need with the help of the funder. You can talk about what you’ll set up with their help, including any increased capacity within your nonprofit.

Conclusion


End with a short conclusion and an action statement about how you will be able to make a difference, but only with their help. You want them to feel like they are an engaged part of the solution and not just a check. Inspire them to be a part of the change with you.

How to Get Started Writing a Good Needs Statement

Getting Started in Writing a Good Needs Statement


In order to get started writing a good needs statement and grant proposal, consider answering the following questions:

1. What Is the Urgent Need That Your Project Will Address?


You need to showcase that your project will address an urgent need.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • 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 to the problem by telling a story, using an example, or sharing a quote?

Your needs statement really needs to speak to the why behind the project, so getting clear on that from the start will be beneficial. You want to inspire funders to be part of the solution, and that starts by explaining the urgent need for the project.

2. What Is Your Solution to the Urgent Need?


Make sure you have an elevator pitch that explains why you are the nonprofit to solve that urgent need—just a short statement of how you plan to solve the issue at hand.

Of course, you’ll have a more detailed plan of how you can solve it with programs and/or services. However, being able to succinctly summarize how you plan to solve the issue will help you pitch your programming in your needs statement and land funding.

3. What Will the World Look Like After Your Project Is Completed?


Allow yourself to imagine how your project could positively impact the world around you and paint that picture for funders. You want them to be inspired to join in your efforts.

For example, if you want to create an afterschool program, you could talk about the impact it will have in the community, how children’s education will be improved, and how it will allow families to work and improve their socioeconomic status.

Think about a big-picture view of the best-case scenario—just make sure you have a clear path to help get there.

5 Needs Statement Templates and Examples

Needs Statement Templates and Examples

Below are three templates and two examples you can use as a starting point for writing your own statement of need.

The Gap in Services Application

Section Section Purpose Section Template

Description of the Urgent Need

Clearly define the urgent need and clearly link it to the targeted population - do not include the "lack" of a specific tool or service.

Lack of _______ has existed as a _______ for many years. There is an urgent need to address the problems caused by _______. However, data has consistently shown that _______. This indicates a need to _______.

Supporting Data that Substantiates the Need

Provide valid, relevant, and recent concrete data that indicates the full scope of the problem.

Evidence suggests that _______ is among the most important factors for _______ . Recently, there has been renewed interest in _______. The changes experienced by _______ over the past year remain unprecedented. In light of recent events in _______, it is necessary to _______.

Approach and Expected Outcome

Clearly state the approach you are going to take to meet the need and specify how the success of this project relates to the funder's mission.

The objectives of this proposal are to assess the effect of _______ , and the effect of _______. If the _______ is to be moved forward, a better understanding of _______ needs to be developed. This project makes a major contribution to the target population by advancing _______.

Next Step in a Larger Goal Application

Section

Section Purpose

Section Template

Description of the Urgent Need

Clearly define the urgent need and clearly link it to the targeted population - do not include the "lack" of a specific tool or service.

There is an increasing concern that some _______ are being disadvantaged _______, leading to _______. Current methods of _______ have proven to be unreliable. However, recent observations have indicated a serious decline in the population of _______.

Supporting Data that Substantiates the Need

Provide valid, relevant, and recent concrete data that indicates the full scope of the problem.

The differences between _______ and _______ are highlighted in recent data that show _______. From this data, we can see that _______ resulted in the _______. These results provide support for the hypothesis that _______.

Approach and Expected Outcome

Clearly state the approach you are going to take to meet the need and specify how the success of this project relates to the funder's mission.

While there has been appropriate caution in _______, there is a critical need to develop a _______. Our long-term goal is to develop a _______ leading to improved _______. Our overall objective here, which is the next step in pursuit of that goal, is to _______. Our central hypothesis is that _______, resulting in _______. The rationale for this project is that, once it is known how to _______, the _______ can be improved, resulting in new and innovative approaches in _______.

Time-sensitive Need Application

Section Section Purpose Section Template

Description of the Urgent Need

Clearly define the urgent need and clearly link it to the targeted population - do not include the "lack" of a specific tool or service.

As a result of _____, there is an urgent need for _____ in the community. People need ____ to____.

Supporting Data that Substantiates the Need

Provide valid, relevant, and recent concrete data that indicates the full scope of the problem.

Based on prior research, this will help them ____. The most important elements they need are _______, and that's backed by research. [Research claims to support statements].

Approach and Expected Outcome

Clearly state the approach you are going to take to meet the need and specify how the success of this project relates to the funder's mission.

We plan to provide ____ to help _____. This will allow the community to _____. When they population receives this support, they will no longer _____. This will change ____ and inspire ____.

Charity: Water Needs Statement Example


While not part of an actual proposal, Charity: Water does a great job of explaining the need behind their mission on their website.

Charity: Water


“703 million people in the world live without clean water.

That’s nearly 1 in 10 people worldwide. Or, twice the population of the United States. The majority live in isolated rural areas and spend hours every day walking to collect water for their family. Not only does walking for water keep children out of school or take up time that parents could be using to earn money, but the water often carries diseases that can make everyone sick.

But access to clean water means education, income and health - especially for women and kids.”

Why It Works

This statement of need gets right to the point, setting the scene on a global level and backing it up with statistics. It shares why it’s a problem, the impact it has on the community, and what the solution could bring. Best of all, it packs it all in just four sentences!

Kids First Chicago Needs Statement Example


Here’s another great example of communicating need from Kids First Chicago:

“Imagine a Chicago where every child in every community has access to a world-class education—the kind that opens the doors to new opportunities in college, career, and life. These exceptional schools offer an array of unique and innovative programming, and 100% of our students not only graduate, but graduate with the skills to shape our city and the world for the better.

Help us take Chicago’s public education system another “impossible” leap forward. Together, we can create a system where every kid defies gravity—a system that ensures equitable access to quality, funding, and transparent information in all communities—a system that can change the world.”

Why it Works

This statement has an aspirational tone, and brings you along the journey with them to be a part of the solution. It inspires you to take action and imagine a better future.

Recap of Top Tips for Writing a Needs Statement

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

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.

Two things as we wrap up: if you need help writing general operating grants, you may find our post on that topic helpful here.

And lastly, to increase your grant writing efforts and bring all of your grant writing needs into one place, try Instrumentl for 14-days free!



Instrumentl team

Instrumentl team

Instrumentl is the all-in-one grant management tool for nonprofits and consultants who want to find and win more grants without the stress of juggling grant work through disparate tools and sticky notes.

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