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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

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Why Should Nonprofits Conduct Needs Assessments?
Rene Paulson, PhD and Mindy Chandler, MA

August, 2016

Efficiency and effectiveness are key players in the nonprofit world.  To do them well, nonprofits must plan well; and to plan well, nonprofits must understand:

  • Who their target beneficiaries are

  • How many people need their services/programs

  • The other services/programs are already offered

  • The actual needs and desires of their beneficiaries

Often, nonprofit leadership has an idea about each of these areas, but no concrete evidence to support their gut feelings.  Knowing if your target audience actually needs your services and if your services are a good fit is important before spending money, time, and resources on the program. In business terms, if there is no demand for your product, you lose money.

A good analogy here would be building a home without proper architectural blue prints.  A ‘building’ might go up, but it may not withstand the first storm.  And if it’s not what you were hoping for or needing, would you want it?  Would you live there?

In these cases, before starting any new program or initiative, take the time to conduct a needs assessment.  Walk through the process of figuring out what people need before spending your resources on a fruitless venture.

Consider these ideas for conducting a needs assessment:

  • Survey your intended audience.

  • Divide the geographic area and identify similar services.

    • Online

    • Drive/walk through

  • Conduct a community meeting and ask people what they want/need.

Take the time to find out who else is offering similar programs and services.  How are they doing it?  Are they doing it well?  How would you distinguish yourself from what is already available?

Once you know what your target audience wants or needs and have determined what other services are available, brainstorm, evaluate, and prioritize your ideas about how those needs can be most effectively met.

Then, take stock of your own capabilities: Where are you strong and where are you weak?  What do you do well?  What could you do better?  Is your nonprofit a good fit for addressing the needs of your target audience?  If the answer is yes, proceed forward and identify the areas you need to improve in order to most efficiently address the needs of your audience.

Be effective and efficient with your resources by understanding your target audience before starting any program or service.  Not doing so will raise your risks of failure.  

And most importantly, keep the focus on the needs of those you want to serve.


Mindy Chandler, MA.  Research & Evaluation consultant with the Dallas-based Elite Research, LLC.  Her experience includes both domestic and international nonprofit management and evaluation.


René Paulson, PhD.  Senior statistician and Research and Evaluation consultant with the Dallas-based Elite Research, LLC. She works to empower researchers and organizations in data driven analysis, outcomes, and impact.

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