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3 Compelling Reasons Strong Needs Statements Improve Grant Proposals

As grant writers, our magic power is the ability to convince others through compelling writing that an organization or project is:


Needed:        Fulfilling a need
Achievable: Reasonable and believable
Credible:       Reputable and experienced
Unique:         Uniquely prepared or positioned

Consider these “proof points” for a moment. Did the last proposal you submitted hit them all? As the order of the list suggests, answering what is achievable, credible and unique begins with articulating the need.
If not, I suggest starting with the needs statement. Here's why.

1. Foundations fund the WHY not the WHAT.

It is tempting to jump straight into the program description—the meat of the proposal that provides the details of the proposed project.
However, foundations do not exist to fund WHAT your organization is doing. Funders exist, and award grants, to see their priorities brought to life.
Honing in on the need for a project will ground the grant proposal in what the funder cares most about.
  • What is the need in the community that this funder wants to see addressed?
  • Where is the intersection between what the funder values and what your organization is striving to achieve?
This intersection is the place where grant award letters are born!

2. A powerful needs statement anchors your compelling case.

A compelling needs statement must go beyond a list of data points. It should be anchored around a “core compelling idea.” This is not a description of your funding need—it is bigger. Why is your proposed solution urgent and important and how does it connect to the funder's mission and priorities? For example:
  • Need: “Funding is needed for buses.”
  • Core compelling idea: “Funding is to transport low-income seniors to medical appointments to receive the care they need.”
Imagine how much more interesting it would be to read the needs statement that builds on the second example!
So how do you identify a strong core compelling idea? Brainstorm answers to these questions:
  • What is the problem?
  • How does your project remedy or solve it?
  • What are the funder's relevant priorities? How does the project advance them?

Clear writing starts with clear thinking.  

A pre-writing technique called “mind mapping” has changed how I approach grant writing. Follow these steps to build mind mapping into your process:
Step 1: Write this question at the center of a whiteboard or by using the free tool at “Why is this program needed?”
Step 2: Brainstorm answers to this question. Create a “branch” for each answer (think keywords, not sentences). Remember: there are no limits and no ideas are dumb!
Step 3: Add supporting ideas, examples and evidence as twigs on each branch.
Step 4: Once you have exhausted your ideas, your internal editor can come out. Identify the most compelling ideas and begin to formulate a plan for your needs statement.
Try involving others in the mind mapping process. Get the perspectives of program staff who are on the front lines and can infuse new ideas and precision into your brainstorm.
By starting with the needs statement and building the rest of a proposal around it, you will be on your way to reinforce what matters most to the funder, highlight what is urgent and important about the project, and produce more compelling grant proposals.
Are you persuaded to begin your next grant proposal with the needs statement?
Lauren Steiner is Founder and President of Grants Plus, a Cleveland-based firm that helps make it easier for organizations to succeed in the grantseeking process.