Do you feel client input is important in nonprofit program design?
This newsletter is a summary of the introductory discussion from the book on participatory needs assessments complete with downloadable resources: step-by-step instructions, examples and templates.
- Click here to access a PDF of the full, expanded discussion of this summary.
- Click here to see a real needs assessment in action.
- Links to Participatory Community Assessment Guides and Studies are at the bottom of this page.
Great project design will engage donors, increase funding, and ensure sustainable, positive project results. How do we do this?
The First Step
Factual, clear problem definition through research and stakeholder interviews.
Stakeholders could include a range of groups that you could choose from for interviews.
- the clients themselves
- your program staff
- financial donors
- donors of products
- civic human services organizations
Why a participatory needs assessment? There are several excellent reasons. Here are some examples:
- Donor input can help guide you in ramping up funding.
- You might discover that community members are facing challenges that you weren’t aware of—but that are solvable.
- Community members, once having felt that they’ve been heard, begin to develop program ownership leading to long term sustainability.
- Clearly defining community need can lead to better choices in choosing solution oriented activities—leading to greater project impact. A well designed project will also capture donor attention.
CHAPTER 1: Participatory Needs Assessments
Conducting a community needs assessment allows us to gauge need, its underlying causes—and also identify community assets which could be used in support of the project. In a participatory needs assessment your community members are participating with you in the assessment of their need. They are part of the process.
So, how do you conduct a needs assessment? Who do you interview—and how do you do it? Nonprofits have a wide range of programs that they manage—some simple, some complex.
So let’s look at a very simple example.
Let’s say that you work for an urban food bank. Community members that could participate in an assessment could be:
- the elderly visiting your food bank
- families trapped in poverty visiting your food bank
- homeless people visiting your food bank
If you stop right there and just interview your program’s beneficiaries—this would be a pure participatory needs assessment. You could then simply design a project from the results of the assessment.
However, you could then also share the interview results with the stakeholder groups below when you approach them for their feedback and begin engaging them for their assistance.
- a volunteer organization hoping to place volunteers
- restaurants and grocery stores willing to donate surplus food
- farmers willing to donate surplus food
- nutritionists with knowledge about poverty, under-nutrition, and obesity
You may find interesting project ideas and opportunities in your assessment results. For example:
- the elderly find it difficult to get to your food bank and to stand in line
- a nutritionist suggests that you should try to stock a greater diversity of food for increased health
- farmers would be happy to make donations—but transportation is an issue
- volunteers could provide time and skills in solving these challenges—but need training
These are challenges which may be excellent opportunities for developing a new project that may be interesting to donors. There are also new opportunities: beneficial partnerships, increased donations, increased revenues, increased exposure for your organization, and receiving help from volunteers.
How do you conduct a needs assessment?
Because of the diversity of each one of your organizations you may need to use slightly different assessment tools. See the list of resources in the full discussion on participatory needs assessments.
Planning for your assessment.
Depending on the complexity of your projects, the planning process can range from quick and simple to sophisticated to scientific. The full discussion provides links to a number of documents that span this range. You can look through them and decide which method will be best for you.
This is part of discussion on needs assessments for a course I teach called OL 201, Designing and Funding Nonprofit Projects. The first week of 201 includes detailed instructions for conducting a live needs assessment, specific resources that you will need for conducting the assessment, and an example of a completed assessment and a preliminary project concept based upon the results.
10 Downloadable Participatory Community Assessment studies and guides are included just below and in the full discussion—as is the PDF on Participatory Needs Assessments at the top of this newsletter.
Over the next six weeks I will continue to share with you how you can incorporate these solutions in a step-by-step fashion into the process of project design, and preparation for funding, and implementation.
Over the next two weeks I will continue to share with you how you can incorporate these solutions in a step-by-step fashion into the process of project design, funding, and implementation.
Tim Magee is the author of A Field Guide to Community Based Adaptation published by Routledge, Oxford, England.