By definition, nonprofits aren’t trying to earn a profit, but they are still a business and should follow certain standard business procedures in order to operate successfully. When businesses launch a new product, they do a needs assessment to determine if there is a real demand for their product – if there is no demand, they will lose money. Before launching a new nonprofit initiative or service, you must also perform a needs assessment to determine if there is a want for it in your community.
A needs assessment is a process for figuring out if people require the service you want to provide and if it will appropriately address their needs. It lays the foundation for planning and implementing the new initiative by aligning resources with strategy and clarifying any potential opportunities or issues.
Step 1: Ask the Big Questions
At the start of the needs assessment, some of the questions you will need to answer include:
- Is any other organization already providing this service in the area?
- How many people need this service?
- Who is your target audience? What is their demographic profile?
- What are this audience’s needs and desires?
If you don’t already know the answers to these questions, you can perform a survey to collect data about the community and audience over the phone, door-to-door, or by using focus groups. Once you know your competition and whom you are hoping to target, you can start developing goals, determining resources, pinpointing problems, and prioritizing actions.
Step 2: SWOT Analysis
We also encourage our nonprofit organizations to perform a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis as part of a needs assessment. Determining these key insights will help you formulate your new marketing strategy.
Strengths and Weaknesses
What you write under these two sections will help you to look internally at your organization to figure out what it is you’re capable of doing and where there’s room for improvement. Your strengths can include things that make your initiative unique, your experience and knowledge, and the quality and reputation of your organization.
When it comes to the weaknesses section of your SWOT, you should incorporate areas that need the most work. This could include a gap in skills, staffing issues, or motivational problems throughout your organization. From determining your weaknesses you’ll be able to fix any issues within your nonprofit, and ensure that your staff is motivated and involved.
Opportunities and Threats
Many organizations are great at looking within, but find it more difficult to examine external factors. The opportunities and threats sections force you to focus on the conditions of the real world and how they affect your initiative. Opportunities can include partnerships you can make in the community, ways to reduce costs, and ideas for diversifying the organization. The threats section should include any possible changes in the community that could negatively impact your initiative, any strong competitors, and things such as seasonality.
Step 3: Bring it All Together
Once you have narrowed your initiative’s focus, determined your target audience, and performed a SWOT analysis, you will be able to confidently determine if your initiative is of great need in the community. If there isn’t a need for your initiative, you’re able to start over without having invested too much time, work, or money into something that would have been unsuccessful. If there is a need for your nonprofit’s program, you’ll be able to get right to work!
Like any good business, a nonprofit should never start a new service without determining if there’s an actual need for it. A good needs assessment will help ensure your initiative’s eventual success and support your organization on its way to achieving its goals.
Did your organization perform a needs assessment for a program you recently launched? What did you learn from it? Let us know in the comments below! Have a future blog topic or tips for nonprofit professionals? Give us a shout by clicking here!