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Now that you have learned how to search for potentially suitable grants and how to read the RFP, the next step is how to develop the actual proposal. Typically, one of the very first proposal sections grant-makers will request is the Statement of Needs, sometimes also called the Needs Statement. This section can be very detailed, depending on your organization and the particular grant you are seeking.

As you will learn in Lesson 7 (“How to Write the Project or Executive Summary”), one of your tasks as a grant-writer is to encourage the funder to read past the executive summary to develop an understanding of the problem(s) your proposal seeks to address. A well-written needs statement is therefore critical to the funder’s understanding in this regard.

The statement of needs gives details about the problems and issues faced by your target population (the individuals or entities you intend to assist with the grant). It must present facts and evidence that clearly and precisely support the need for the activities described in the proposal, as well as why you need the requested grant funds to conduct those activities. A well-written statement of needs should also show that you have an expert understanding of the problem and are confident that the activities you are proposing will either reduce or if feasible eliminate the problem. The statement of needs should be succinct, but also persuasive. Your goal is to “sell” the funder on the legitimacy and urgency of the problem or issue, as well as on giving you money to help you resolve that problem or issue. In order to do this you must be a good presenter, meaning you will provide substantive information that is relevant to the funder’s objectives and do so in a logical order and arrangement.

If you have never before written a proposal or similar document, start by preparing an outline that lists each of the problems or issues in their order of urgency or importance most urgent first, followed by next-most urgent, and so on; then consider the following:

Identify the facts or statistics that will best support the needs or issues you are presenting. It is imperative that the data is accurate; it cannot be outdated or too generic and it has to directly relate to the problem or issue being presented, as well as to your organization’s mission, overall, and to your project, specifically.

Websites maintained by federal, state or local governments often provide information that is current and the data they provide are widely acknowledged as being credible; you should therefore use them to the greatest extent possible whenever you are writing a proposal. One example of such websites is the U.S. Census Bureau (www.census.gov), where you can find statistics that support the size, demographics and socio-economics of the population in your locale, often right down to the individuals or households that live on a particular block. Most federal government agency websites provide some level of data that can be of benefit to researchers (which is what you, as a grant-writer, are), among them the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services and Agriculture. Consequently, one of your best sources of data might be the website maintained by the federal government agency that oversees the types of problems and issues your proposal seeks to address (including the grant-making agency to which you are submitting the proposal, in the case of a federally-issued RFP). Likewise, many state and local governments also provide statistics and other information that might help to support your statement of needs. If you are unsure how to identify the most relevant government agencies from which to gather statistics, refer back to Lesson 2 (“How to Search for Grants”) and its discussion of websites maintained by the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance and others you can search by program area.

The source must be cited for all statistics and/or any other information you present in your proposal as being factual. For example, simply stating, “The majority of families in the Alpha community are low-income,” is not only too generic, the grant-maker might also assume it is anecdotal (i.e. subjective or without credible evidence to support the statement). The better way to present this information would be: “According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey, 140 of the 200 families that reside in the Alpha community are below the federal poverty level.” Citing credible statistics is one way to signal to the grant-maker that your problem or issue is very real and that your proposal should be taken seriously.

You can cite statistics in several ways. The source of the data can be included in the sentence as was done in the above example or you can use either footnotes or endnotes. (You can also use a combination of methods throughout the proposal.) Refer to the “Help” section of your word-processing program or conduct an Internet search if you are unsure how to footnote or endnote.

The statement of needs should portray your project in the best possible light. In other words, it should convey the seriousness of the problem or issue and the critical need for the grant requested. Do not, however, portray the problem as being hopeless. (If the problem is hopeless, the grant-maker can then conclude that it would be a waste of their money to give you the funds you are requesting, right?) Instead, give the funder a reason to be optimistic that, with the right solution (the one you are proposing), the problem can be significantly alleviated (or, if feasible, eliminated) and that funding your project will therefore be worthwhile. In a nutshell: Do not overstate anything and don’t use emotional appeals excessively.

Avoid circular reasoning, which is what occurs when you attempt to support the solution by simply restating the problem in a different way, rather than by providing evidence to support the solution. For example, assume you are requesting funding to build a pool for your community and write the following as a statement of need: “Our residents are unable to swim because there is no pool in our community.” In this example, having access to a community pool is presented as the solution to the problem (residents are unable to swim). As the sentence is worded, however, there is no evidence to support that the solution will indeed remedy the problem. (Perhaps the residents are unable to swim because they don’t know how.) In fact, both parts of the sentence residents are unable to swim AND there is no pool could be equally construed as problems. A better way to state this would be: “There is no pool in our community, thus requiring our residents to travel fifteen miles to the nearest public pool if they wish to swim.” The latter example presents evidence (lack of proximity) that the solution (a community pool) will solve the problem (residents wanting to swim, but being unable to conveniently do so).

State also how the pool could add merit to your community for example, by instituting various programs to include recreation, exercise, and physical therapy at the pool location. This could not only help your community, but also potentially provide a source of revenue that could be used to help defray the cost of pool maintenance, thereby demonstrating one way you intend to sustain the pool after the grant funds have been expended.

The more evidence you can provide to support the credibility of the proposed solution, the better. For example, if a survey concerning the pool was conducted and a clear majority of residents indicated they will use the pool when completed, include those survey results in your statement of needs.

Once you have written your statement of needs, ask yourself the following questions: “Have I addressed the problem or issue in a way that is thorough, yet concise, and that clearly conveys its seriousness and magnitude?” “Have I included statistics and other data from credible sources that are directly relevant to the problem or issue?” “Are these statistics and other data also relevant to my mission and the project I am proposing?” If you answer “no” to any of these, you should go back and rework your statement of needs until you can respond affirmatively to all three questions.

Your statement of needs does not have to be long and drawn out. Be as precise, short, and concise as possible, while also conveying what you want to say in a thorough manner that demonstrates you have put a great deal of thought and consideration into what you have written. Your main concern is to get the funder to read your proposal and to take action in favor of it. By providing a well-written statement of needs, you will greatly increase the odds of accomplishing just that.

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Assignment

For this assignment you will do the following exercise:

  1. Develop your statement of needs. For this first draft, don’t worry whether or not it is precise or that you didn’t include much info. Your assignment is just to get going and create something you can build on. You will edit it later. You can go to the appendix to see a sample of a statement of needs.

Test

Read over the following questions and provide the best answer possible.

  1. The statement of needs gives details about problems or issues you or your target population face.
    1. True
    2. False
  2. When writing the statement of needs, you want it to be succinct but also persuasive.
    1. True
    2. False
  3. Your goal is to sell the funder on giving you money to help you resolve the problems or issues you have stated in the proposal.
    1. True
    2. False
  4. When writing the statement of needs, information should be placed in logical order and arrangement.
    1. True
    2. False
  5. You should avoid circular reasoning when writing the statement of needs.
    1. True
    2. False
  6. When writing your statement of needs there are key points to consider, including which facts or stats will best support the project you are presenting, portraying your project in a positive light, and what else?
    1. You may want to portray your problem as hopeless
    2. You may want to present your problem as easy to solve on your own
    3. You may want to present your problem as something that your competitors will solve
    4. None of the above

Lesson 5 >

Want to Go to College?
$3 Billion in Pell Grants are Unclaimed Every Year by Eligible Students

Grant Funding and Assistance
Billions of dollars are now easily available to many Americans