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What is a Needs Assessment and Why Does Your Nonprofit Need One?

Kate Mead

Director, Professional Services

Kate brings a wealth of fundraising and operations expertise to her client projects at JCA. Her areas of specialty include system needs analysis, business process improvement, and overseeing large-scale CRM implementation projects.
January 23, 2023

The Clash famously sang: “Should I stay or should I go?” You may be wondering the same thing about your CRM, ticketing system, or other technology. If so, your first step in answering that question is to conduct a Needs Assessment.

But… what exactly is a Needs Assessment? And why do you need one?

Needs Assessment Definition

When you get down to it, a Needs Assessment is a process to uncover the true needs of your organization by taking a deep dive into your people, processes, and technology. Projects vary by size and scope, but overall, a needs assessment typically includes the following:

Project and Change Management

An assessment might be the first step in long journey to replace or consolidate your technology. That can be a big undertaking! Successful organizational change starts at the very beginning of your engagement, so you’ll want to make sure you have a good project plan. At JCA, a Needs Assessment begins with a kick-off and project planning phase where we work with our nonprofit client to create a plan that addresses risks, communications, budget management, scope, and other details. Your project manager will be responsible for aligning your plan with your organizational goals and involving key stakeholders throughout the process. Additionally, the project manager will control the scope and make sure the project happens on time and on budget.

Discovery and Stakeholder Interviews

This is a fancy way of saying, “listen to your staff.” What do they need to get their day-to-day work done? What tools/technology do they use? How are the current teams structured? Are there enough staff resources to complete their work? Are there workflows that are inhibiting efficiencies? What’s working? What’s not? What would you LIKE to do in the future? We make sure to include stakeholders from across departments and levels of your organization, to get an accurate view of what is really going on as we lead these interviews. A review of necessary reports and outputs can also be helpful in revealing what data is most critical to your business decisions. Can you produce these reports quickly and easily? Again, think about the people, processes and technology that is required to accomplish the work, and make sure to document pain points, requirements, and anything else that rises to the surface in your discussions.

Needs Assessment

This is the step when you take everything you’ve learned to consolidate, analyze, and share it with your team. At JCA, this often takes the form of a written report, but could also be a presentation. Our reports typically address:

  • Goals and Objectives – Provides context for the findings and subsequent recommendations.
  • Key Cultural Findings – Key takeaways from interviews and how stakeholders interact.
  • System Requirements – Overview of business needs for each functional area. If a new system is required, you’ll want to create a “checklist” of requirements needed for a replacement.
  • Strategic Recommendations – Based on the analysis of findings, these are recommendations for addressing issues.
  • Marketplace Review – Summary of products to evaluate/exclude, based on requirements.
  • Next Steps – Scope, timeline, and budget estimates to execute recommendations. These may be divided into phases, so you can achieve short-term wins while planning for the longer-term goals.

No two needs assessments will be the same, as they are driven by the unique needs of your organization.

What’s Next?

You’ve done the work to capture the current state of your organization… but what’s next? A Needs Assessment is just the first step in your improvement journey—the real work comes in applying those learnings towards your goals. That might mean updating your workflows to create more efficiencies, unearthing dirty data that needs to be organized and cleaned, or determining that your system isn’t cutting it and starting down the road of selecting a new system. Either way, the Needs Assessment provides a clear understanding of your organization’s goals and direction on how to achieve them.

Align Your Technology with Your Nonprofit’s Strategic Focus

At JCA, we believe that a smart approach to transformation always starts with a clear understanding of where you stand today and where you want to go. Our advisory consultants apply decades of firsthand experience working for nonprofits to deliver an unbiased perspective on what actions to take and when to take them. If you’d like to learn more about a needs assessment, or chat with me about your organization click on the button below to get in touch.

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