Home > The Gardner Report > Getting Focused, Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation Coaching Project, ACE and Client Recognition

When was the last time your NPO conducted a community needs assessment? If not recently, you may be getting out of focus with the needs of your community and the desires of your donors.

Gardner & Associates encourage its clients to conduct community needs assessments at least every three years. The assessment will help you determine four key elements to keep your NPO focused:

1. What is the community perception of your NPO and its role in the community?

2. Have the community needs for your services changed?

3. Has your NPO adapted it services to meet changing community needs?

4. Are there other NPOs that are meeting the community needs?
Paul and Walt find that a needs assessment serves as a SWOT analysis for your NPO’s strategic planning.

Conducting a community needs assessment is hard work, but is essential to the success of your NPO. G&A recommends a five-step process:
1. Research your community: review the census data, profile the other NPOs serving your community, define government programs and identify key opinion leaders/influencers.

2. Conduct an internal assessment of your NPO: look into the mirror. Review your community research. Assess how your NPO fits into the community and with other NPOs. Identify your NPO’s strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities. Post all this up on the wall so that you see it clearly and constantly.

3. Plan a process of community input sessions: consider using four different polling strategies:
a. Conduct personal interviews with key opinion leaders and influential donors.

b. Schedule several focus groups of different constituent groups to sample community opinion of its needs and their perception of your NPO.

c. Test the findings from your internal assessment, interviews and focus groups in a series of community forums. Ask a broad sampling of community stakeholders to help identify the next steps for your NPO. Use each successive input session to test and refine what you have learned to date.

d. Conduct a concluding survey using mail, email, online or phone surveys to quantify your findings. Plan a strategy and promotional effort that will attract a wide range of input to give your NPO creditable results.

4. Assess the input findings: invest the time of your staff, leadership and key donors to thoughtfully and progressively review the findings of your input sessions. Identify critical community needs that your NPO is meeting or should meet. Assess the relevance and perception of your NPO. Determine potential collaboration or consolidation opportunities.

5. Launch a strategic planning process: engage your staff and board members in a thoughtful and serial planning process. Consider either breaking into groups to address elements of your plan or scheduling 2 to 3 hour work sessions to address a single topic over a period of time. The process of digesting the community needs assessment takes time, but helps your NPO remain fresh, focused and relevant.

After a year of studying together with the Federal Budget Study Group the project is moving forward to help the participating groups to take action together. The project is moving from the conceptual to focusing on building strategic alliances and collaborations. The participating groups will focus on designing successful strategies in the new economy. They will devise group action plans focused on areas of commonality such as waivers or exceptions to federal grant requirements. In addition to the revised direction, the group will assume a new name – Moving the Needle Work Group. “Moving the Needle” is a Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation theme.

Walt Eilers has been a group member representing Partners for Better Housing. He will now also serve as a coaching partner and will assist the participants to track the progress of their projects. Walt said, “This is an exciting new opportunity to apply the principles that Gardner & Associates espouses in an effort to build statewide collaborations among a range of NPOs.”

The Arkansas Coalition for Excellence (ACE) is Arkansas’ Non Profit Association. It supports Arkansas NPOs through a range of educational programs, technical support, research and materials. Hunter Phillips Goodman is ACE Executive Director.

If you are not currently a member, check out their website, www.acenonprofit.org. Consider becoming an ACE Facebook friend to connect. Sign up for the weekly newsletter to learn more about classes and opportunities.


West Texas A & M University recently launched its new annual giving effort – I Am WT. This is a mixed media (post cards, emails, direct mail and website) appeal to alumni living in the Amarillo area. It is an adaptation of its successful employee giving program.

Food Bank of North Central Arkansas recently completed an eight-month capacity building campaign for its board and staff. The concluding activity was a strategic planning project. The board has set aggressive goals to expand its distribution, added a staff person to work with programs and agencies and updated its governance and operations documents.

Northeastern State University just completed a wealth rating of alumni and friends. This project helps NSU to focus its cultivation and communications efforts as it moves forward in its Charting the Second Century campaign.