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But We NEED the Money!

One of my beloved clients told me he wanted to apply for a grant. I asked him to describe the community needs and his nonprofit needs. His reply, “We need the money. Is that not a need?

After taking a deep breath, I remembered an adage my career military husband says, “Well, that is a plan, but it is the wrong plan.” I did not reply with that statement, however.


Over a cup of coffee, I helped him develop a needs statement. I informed him a needs statement is a crucial first step in the grant writing process. He carefully listened as I explained the needs statement must prove to the funder that his project meets a critical community need and matches the priority of the grantmaker.

I provided my client with an excellent resource, “Grant Writing for Dummies,” by Dr. Beverly Browning. Dr. Bev advises that the needs statement must be like any story “compelling, magnetizing, tear-jerking, and believable.”

Since our focus was helping homeless adults with addiction issues lead productive lives, the compelling, tear-jerking, and believable stories took care of themselves. I logged onto my laptop and pulled up a GPA webinar about the needs statement. He learned, took notes, and was eager to begin.

Next, I shared three examples of awarded needs statements. I showed my client how to link his program to the funder's agenda. Since my client's mission was aligned directly to the grantmakers' priorities, the opening sentence of the needs statement was simple to create.  

I looked over his shoulder as he tapped out the first sentence on his 10-year-old laptop. It was perfect: accurate, brief, and concise. He ensured the statement was “people-centric” and not “program centric.” He used facts (quantitative) and stories (qualitative) too and hammered out the next section.

I began to tear up as my client struck the keyboard and told his own, powerful testimonial. He backed this up with reliable statistics and current research. Fortunately, (unfortunately in real life), his needs statement was filled with comparative statistics and relevant research since his hometown is an epicenter for drug-related activity.

My client provided research and quoted renowned experts in drug addiction and recovery and how his program was needed urgently in the community. At one point, I had him delete a few sentences that were faulty since he quoted “Wikipedia” and not a primary source 

He identified the problem and painted a picture of havoc, mayhem, and desperation that filled the community. He told gut-wrenching stories from his program attendees and identified how his non-profit was sustainable.

My client unquestionably identified the problem (critical community need), that it was urgent and that his program was a resource to solve this issue. Finally, he tied everything together. 

There are no hard and fast rules” on how to write a needs statement. However, if you follow these tips, you will end up with a strong narrative. My client learned the following lessons.

  • A needs statement must include how his mission aligned with the funders' priorities
  • To focus on helping people, rather than helping his program
  • Use relevant statistics and research
  • Tell stories with real facts
  • Ensure your need is urgent and that it will solve a critical community need
Use this formula for needs statements. Then, when a grant professional asks you what is your needs statement, you can answer readily.

What are your experiences with needs statements?

Dr. Judy Riffle is a grant consultant and serves on the Grant Professionals Foundation Board of Directors.