Community Needs Assessment

North Lawndale is about 2 miles wide and about 1.5 miles deep, with a population of approximately 38,000 people. In spite of this small land mass and decreasing population, it is home to about 185 nonprofit organizations that are registered with the State of Illinois. In addition, there are more than 187 churches, a number of which are involved in community development activities extending beyond the walls of the church. This does not include informal groups, schools, parks, ministries and many block clubs. The organizations include new startups with 3 board members and no employees on one end of the spectrum, as well as 100 year old institutions with a couple thousand employees. Churches, nonprofit organizations and institutions comprise a significant portion of the economic base for North Lawndale and surrounding communities. The changes in the economic environment have led to substantial increases in the level of competition among nonprofits. The North Lawndale population has decreased to less than a third of what it was in the early 1900’s. A number of other factors, including white flight and the upward mobility of the black middle class; increased poverty; decreases in public and private sector disinvestment; proliferation of churches and social organizations and a stagnant economy has led to a strain on the tax base that could be used to support social service programs. As a result, the client pool has been significantly reduced, but the number and complexity of client issues have increased. At the same time, public and private funders are demanding that nonprofits do more with less, and increase accountability. In essence, nonprofits must make the case for their very existence. Do you ever wonder how to strike a balance between community needs, your own organization’s capabilities and the funders’ priorities? One way to do this is to conduct a community needs assessment. This will help you get opinions of potential clients and thought leaders, formulate assumptions about the environment, identify key issues and take stock of the community’s assets. You can use the community needs assessment for a number of purposes, including developing proposals, creating and improving programs, supporting strategic plans and galvanizing community grass-roots action around issues of concern. There are several ways to gather the necessary information. One method is developing surveys to measure potential clients’ attitudes, knowledge and preferences. You can

supplement the survey results with individual or group interviews (focus groups) to get more detailed information that you wouldn’t be able to get otherwise. Reading about what experts or other successful organizations have done already will help you to develop program structures and procedures that are consistent with what leaders in the field are doing. When it comes to writing the community needs assessment report, there is no set format. Some of the most common elements include a(n) 1. Overview of the community, issues and/or project 2. Review of literature and public policy or other program models (examples) where applicable 3. Description of research methods and data collection 4. Data analysis and description of the results 5. Description of the implications of the findings 6. Review of current programs, activities and resources 7. Identification of community needs 8. Recommendations to address the needs 9. Formulation of goals and objectives 10. Conclusions and next steps 11. Timeline Please, feel free to write a letter to the editor of the North Lawndale News, or e-mail me at consulting@valeriefleonard.com to share ideas, and tell us your experience with developing a community needs assessment and how you used it. Valerie F. Leonard works with local organizations to create sustainable communities through technical assistance, specialized workshops and special projects. Visit Valeriefleonard.com for more information. This article is archived at Valeriefleonard.com (blog page) or Nlcn.org.