The Most Challenging Part of Your Grant Proposal May Surprise You

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There’s no way around it. Grant proposals can be very difficult to write. But one section is notoriously difficult for novice grant writers to master.

It’s not the grant budget or your method for measuring outcomes. It’s not a detailed history of your organization or the qualifications of your staff.

The most challenging part of your grant proposal is the needs statement.

Why? Because your needs statement must be short and sweet while also explaining the why and how of your project. It’s easy to get long-winded and take up too much real estate in your proposal. Conversely, you might overlook the importance of a need statement and not give it the attention it deserves.

Remember, your needs statement lays the foundation for your project proposal. It’s vital that you clearly communicate 1) why you’re doing the project and 2) how you will do it.

What is a needs statement?

Think of your needs statement as an elevator pitch for your entire grant proposal. Using evidence and statistics, it lays out the rationale for your project. It’s a short, succinct way to identify the observed need and how you plan to address it.

It should be clear, concise and specific.

Here’s an example of a needs statement that could use some help:

“Many people are out of work in our town. Without income, these people have difficulty feeding their children. Our organization wants to provide canned food for school children to take home on Fridays.”

The needs statement could be improved like this:

“In 2020, 600 residents lost their jobs when ABC Manufacturing Plant closed its doors. According to the State Labor Department, 275 of these displaced workers are still unemployed. What’s more, the Anywhere Town School System reports an 25% increase in the number of students who qualify for free and reduced lunches. This indicates more families in our community are experiencing food insecurity. To supplement the school’s free and reduced lunch program, our “Weekend Backpacks” program will provide 100 qualifying students with a backpack filled with canned goods and shelf-stable products every Friday. Doing so will provide kids nutritious food to eat over the weekend when school lunches aren’t available.”

As you can see, the second needs statement is much more specific about the need and the solution. It’s backed with statistics that prove the need exists. It also outlines exactly what the program will do and why.

But it’s not overly long or detailed. You’ll have opportunities to go into more detail about your program design and outcome measures in other sections. That’s where the meat of your proposal will be.

Grant reviewers should be able to glance at your needs statement and quickly determine what your program is about and why. They’ll find other information to support your proposal in subsequent sections.

Elements to effective needs statements

1. Focus on a single issue

In all likelihood, the work your nonprofit does touches on various areas and problems. But your needs statement should be program specific. It should focus on a central concern instead of trying to be all-encompassing or too broad.

2. Assess the funder’s intentions

Think about the funder’s goals and values. Make sure your entire proposal, but especially the needs statement, aligns with those goals.

3. Prove there’s a problem

Include data and statistics to make your needs statement compelling. Prove that your program will impact a real societal need.  Don’t just make a claim without backing it up verifiable facts.

4. Humanize the problem

Your application will be read by real people who are influenced by real-life stories. Along with quantitative data, include qualitative statements from people who the grant will help. This isn’t always possible, especially if it’s a new program, but it’s good to include if you can.

5. Identify barriers

Be sure to identify any barriers that exists. In the above example, the barrier is that kids don’t have access to school lunches on weekends so they may go without meals. The program to send food home with kids on Friday would help address the barrier.

A foolproof way to write needs statements

A strong needs statement will help grant reviewers quickly understand what your program will do and why. But it’s easy to get carried away with the needs statement and lose space you need to go into detail about the program’s structure and goals in other sections.

Therefore, we suggest writing your needs statement last. You’ll have everything else laid out and will know exactly how much room you have to describe the problem and your proposed solution. It’s a foolproof way to avoid getting bogged down writing a needs statement and having to scale-back other important information.

Reach out for help

If you need some help crafting a grant proposal, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’ve got decades of experience writing federal and foundation grants We’d love to help you win money to fund your good works!


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  • Need assistance with grant proposals . Can O hire someone???

    maria on

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