How to Write a Needs Statement for Your Grant Proposal

Grant writing team.
••• Hero Images/Getty Images

When you begin writing your grant proposal, you might want to start with the needs statement. That's because it answers the question: What is the need that my organization will address with this project?

Winning Grants Step by Step, by Carlson and O'Neal-McElrath, provides a wonderful outline to preparing an effective needs statement. The authors say that the needs statement should convince the funder that your project meets a critical societal need.

Using both facts (quantitative data) and stories (qualitative data), an excellent needs statement grabs your funder's interest.

What Does a Needs Statement Include?

  • The need you address must clearly relate to your nonprofit's mission and purpose.
  • It should focus on the people you serve, rather than your organization's needs.
  • It should be well supported with evidence such as statistics, expert views, and trends.
  • It must directly connect to, and support, your organization's ability to respond to that need.
  • It must be easy to understand. Use the KISS principle (keep it sweet and simple). 
  • It should avoid circular reasoning, a common error in grant proposals. The Foundation Center defines circular reasoning as claiming that the absence of your solution as the actual problem. Then your solution is offered as the way to solve the problem. For example, "The problem is that we have no senior center in our community. Building a senior center will address the problem."

    How to Write the Needs Statement

    Winning Grants provides these suggestions for writing your needs statement:

    1. Use statistics that support your argument.
    2. Use comparative statistics and research. Citing a community that did something similar to your proposal and its beneficial results makes a strong case for your proposed actions.
    1. Quote authorities on your topic. Include names and the sources so the information can be verified.
    2. Document all your data. If you collect information from the Internet, be sure the websites you reference are reputable, and the links are current.
    3. Use stories, but anchor those stories in hard facts. A winning need statement includes both stories and facts.
    4. Make it urgent. Help the funder understand why the funding is critical now.

    Resource Associates, a grants consultancy, has these caveats for grant writers working on a needs statement:

    • Make double sure that the needs you address are aligned to the funder's goals
    • Sort out the main problem you will address; don't get sidelined by small, contributing problems.
    • Make sure your data is the most recent. Use up-to-date census numbers, for instance, to provide a snapshot of your community.
    • Paint a picture that speaks to the heart of your story and the people you're trying to help. Use the data to support that human story.

    Perhaps the best way to understand a need statement is to look at a successful one. Here is a sample needs statement from Winning Grants Step by Step.

    Sample Needs Statement

    The need for the Breast Cancer Prevention Project is great.

    The American Cancer Society estimates that 203,500 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to occur among women in the United States in 2002. Of that number, 5,345 will be in Every County. In comparison, of Each state’s 48 counties, the second highest incidence rate is projected to be in Big County, with 1,850 new cases. Similarly, Every County leads the state in deaths anticipated from breast cancer in 2002 (with 1,160), with Big County again a distant second (with 395 anticipated deaths).

    Women who have breast cancer and who are employed may lose or need to leave their jobs or take significant amounts of time off for treatment, resulting in a lack of a source of income. Or they may find their incomes drained by the costs of health care. They may also lose their health insurance, custody of their children, or their housing because of discrimination or recurrent hospitalization.

    Some women stay in abusive relationships to keep their insurance; even if a woman has access to coverage, many insurers will not cover a breast cancer survivor for up to ten years after recovery. Many of the women we serve have been diagnosed with Stage IV cancer, meaning that they do not have ten years, nor will they recover. The illness itself, plus weeks or months of treatment, often causes women to become fatigued, depressed, and malnourished. The need for preventive outreach and early detection is clearly great.

    The groups targeted for outreach through this project are among the most underserved women for health education services: women of color, homeless women, and lesbians, all of whom are low-income and aged 40 and over.

    The causes of breast cancer are not entirely known. Risk factors include heavy exposure to radiation, excessive alcohol consumption, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, stress, smoking, exposure to hormones, aging, family or personal history of breast cancer, and race. Also, according to the Breast Cancer Fund, hundreds of scientific studies have drawn links between cancer and exposure to toxic chemicals found in the environment. Furthermore, scientists have identified two specific genes that are important in the development of breast cancer.

    Women who are homeless do exhibit several of these risk factors because of their living situations, including alcohol and drug abuse, which is common. Lesbian women may receive inadequate health care because of poor treatment from providers who are uncomfortable with them. Immigrant women of color who do not speak English well may be afraid to seek health care if they are undocumented. For these reasons and more, the project is crucial to the women of this community.

    If the project were not undertaken, low-income Port Beach–area women at risk for developing breast cancer would not be able to receive — in their communities — health education and prevention services designed to minimize their risk. Since the women we serve are low-income, including some who are homeless, they have limited access to similar resources that may be available in other areas. The fact that SAK’s House goes directly into shelters means that we reach women who would ordinarily not access health education services, those who are at highest risk for serious health problems.

    *Reprinted with permission from Winning Grants Step by Step, Third Edition, 2008, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


    Storytelling for Grantseekers, Second Edition, Cheryl A. Clarke, Jossey-Bass (Buy from Amazon)

    Winning Grants Step by Step: The Complete Workbook for Planning, Developing and Writing Successful Proposals 4th Edition by Tori O'Neal-McElrath  (Buy from Amazon)

    Grant Writing for DummiesBeverly A. Browning, Wiley. (Buy from Amazon)

    Back to How to Write a Grant Proposal.