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WHY IS A NEEDS ASSESSMENT NECESSARY?

What is a community needs assessment? The goal of a needs assessment is to identify the needs of a community and determine potential concerns the community faces. A straightforward way to estimate the needs of a community is to simply ask residents their opinions

BOX 4.3 SAMPLE NEEDS-ASSESSMENT METHODOLOGY

Significant numbers of Hispanic children under the age of 3 in Dekalb County have shown developmental delays (DeKalb County, 2009). This is often related to minority language status and low maternal education, as explained by Zill and West (2000). In September 2009, the Hispanic Coalition conducted a needs assessment on the needs of the Hispanic community in Dekalb County. The needs assessment revealed that many children in the Hispanic community are at risk of abuse and neglect. Their parents are not willing to participate in prevention programs that involve the state for a variety of reasons encompassing their nondocumented immigration status, the fear that the state will take away their kids, their language barriers, and their national cultural backgrounds. They prefer interacting with people who speak their language and know their culture. However, when their kids are involved in declared abuse and neglect, the costs of such abuse or neglect are carried by U. S. taxpayers. As a matter of fact, a recent study concluded that child abuse costs the United States about $94 billion annually (Prevent Child Abuse America, 2001). The same study explains that for every dollar spent on child-abuse prevention, at least $2 are saved, which could have been spent on other child welfare services (Prevent Child Abuse America, 2001). It is worth it to invest in child-abuse prevention, especially because of other costs, such as academic underachievement, violence, substance abuse, low productivity as adults, teen pregnancy, juvenile delinquency, and adult criminality, which any society cannot neglect to address by any reasonable means.

about the development of services within the community, their satisfaction with services, and what particular services are needed. A needs assessment helps better understand the extent and intensity of a need, and advise as to the appropriate actions to be taken. A needs assessment can confirm problems that people are already aware of, and provide justification for actions.

NEEDS ASSESSMENT AND FINANCIAL SUSTAINABILITY

Needs assessment informs organizational decision making, including decisions related to strategies for financial sustainability. Needs assessment helps determine gaps, as well as strategies to fill the gaps, and provides guidance for prioritization and resource allocation. Prioritization is a key strategy in allocating resources for activities that fulfill the mission of a nonprofit organization, but also provides evidence of long-term commitment, which can help mobilize additional resources needed for financial sustainability or engage an organization on a path to financial sustainability.

Needs assessment provides fact-based information about needs of the target population that are linked to an organizational mission and society at large. This serves as a basis for financial planning, a justification for the added value of programs and services, and a potential tool to attract funding that can contribute to financial sustainability. With new funding linked to a needs assessment, an organization not only provides services that are needed, but also can make long-term financial planning based on projected trends. Obviously, such financial planning would take into account the external social, political, and economic factors that influence the financial sustainability of nonprofit organizations.

Let us consider a fictitious nonprofit organization called Dayton Association for Special Needs (DASN). The DASN is an organization that provides various health and educational interventions and services to help individuals with special needs achieve their full potential. DASN includes a team of teachers, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, and educational psychologists working together to provide vital assistance to 140 special-needs individuals in Dayton, Ohio. Over the years, DASN has received strong financial support from the community through fund-raising activities. However, for the past 3 years, DASN has not been able to meet its budgeted needs, and has been operating on a chronic deficit. In addition, despite growing demands to provide more services, the organization had to separate itself from key service personnel due to the financial stress. Running on a 3-year deficit and downsizing personnel despite growing demands are clear indications of an organization that is not financially sustainable. The board was planning additional downsizing in personnel and even considering transferring their clients to a different nonprofit organization so that DASN could be dissolved. Given the difficulty of finding a partner organization to take over DASN's clients, a board member suggested conducting a needs assessment that might help address the financial stress of DASN.

The board created an ad hoc committee to develop a needs-assessment proposal and implement it until a final report, including recommendations for action, could be written. During the literature review stage, the ad hoc committee found that about 20% of Americans self-reported a disability. Part of the findings from the needs assessment revealed that more than 3,000 individuals with disabilities live in the areas near the DASN facility. More than 60% of caregivers for individuals with special needs identified were paying out of pocket for services. About 70% of these 60% were not aware of funding opportunities that exist through Social Security disability income, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security income. The remaining 30% knew vaguely about the services, but they were not sure whether they qualified or how to apply for such assistance. The ad hoc committee recommended that DASN target these potential clients through community education and outreach strategies. The organization implemented the recommendations of the ad hoc committee. The number of clients increased from 140 to 430 individuals with special needs in just 1 year. DASN rehired most of the personnel laid off and hired new staff. DASN opened a reserve account and closed the fiscal year with a profit.

DASN linked the findings of their needs assessment with the fact that about 20% of Americans self-reported a disability (mega level). They articulated a justification about the need for the organization to address such community needs (macro level). They implemented an outreach program to educate potential clients about financial assistance that could relieve them from some financial pressures due to caring for individuals with special needs (micro level). As a result, DASN tripled its number of clients in just 1 year. These clients used government funding to pay for services they receive from DASN. These clients used relatively reliable funding from which the DASN could make financial plans. Consequently, not only did DASN expand its services and hire new staff, but it also opened a new reserve account that could be used in case of financial hardship in the future. The needs assessment has clearly contributed to the financial health of DASN, and in turn to its path toward financial sustainability.

 
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