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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Social Entrepreneurship 101: Needs Assessments the key to making impact in your organization

Having conducted needs assessments in the past and in our more recent project of conducting a needs assessment for a future project in Sierra Leone (which we will share more info about soon) for young girls empowerment workshops, we were thrilled to share some of the lessons learned on the impact of needs assessment. Every successful social entrepreneur and humanitarian conducts needs assessments. Have you ever heard nonprofit leaders complain about the lack of clients or not achieving their target goals?  Products or programs that are needs based are overall more successful in targeting the right clients than those that are based on assumptions. So what are needs assessments? In the business world they are is referred to as feasibility studies and in the nonprofit world a needs assessment.  They are meant for organizations to identify their clientele  and what types of services is best beneficial to them. They can be either in the form of surveys, focus groups, one on one conversation, SWOT analysis (Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) etc. It is advisable that before you provide any service that you do some basic research to ensure that you are crossing all of your T’s and dotting your I’s in providing the best services needed by the community you serve.  We compiled the 5 best reasons for why you should conduct on going needs assessments of the population you serve. 

1. Needs assessments inform your goals for the  organization and the priority areas  to should focus on.

Once you have collected your data, the trends and areas that resonate as the most needed are the areas you should focus on as you develop your strategic plan for your organization for the year. The strategic plan should be built on the different sources of data from your needs assessment.

2. Needs assessments will inform stakeholders (funders, partners, community) of the evident needs of your population you work with

If a funder or a key stakeholder were to ask you, why you decided on providing the services you currently provide as an organization would you have a solid justification around data? It is critical to have this data because you can not only make decisions based on the data for the organization but you can also communicate this to your various stakeholders.  For example yes we provide birthing kits to expecting mothers in Africa because after doing a focus group, and surveys with the communities we realized this was a need. It makes the work you do more evidence based.  

3. Needs assessments become your baseline data to compare to once you implement the services.

Baseline data is important because you can compare trends in how much your service has impacted your client population over the years. Also needs change over the years so it is important for you to track how effective your services are as your client needs change.

4. They save money and time!

If you identify the appropriate needs of your clients, chances are they will show up to receive your services, however sometimes if that need is not determined and you go purely off assumptions. Your clients may be disengaged and not interested in what you are trying to offer. Thus you have wasted time in creating a program that in your mind was spectacular but to your clients futile.

5.  They help your  community you are working with  become more invested in the services because they know the services are for them. This will in turn lead to longer sustainability of projects.

Found this article helpful? Want to learn more about needs assessments and how to do them?  Leave a comment or send us an email for more resources.  


  1. This was one of the biggest hindrances to successful projects in development work. I think a lot of NGOs now though are finally starting to recognize the importance of doing them. Even though it may seem tedious, you can't just go into a community and do a project, without knowing whether there is a need for it or any other thing. I really think the number reason should be why its important to the community, but I like the list. Also to accompany a Needs Assessment, should be a feasibility study, which has some overlaps.

    1. Very true! The reasons aren't numbered by priority but you are absolutely right! Can't go into a community assuming. What have you noticed in your work for why they are important? Do Share :)

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