Summary: Conducting a thorough needs assessment for your social business or nonprofit requires multiple layers of data and analysis to understand your social cause. This blog post will help you identify the right data sources to use.

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What Data Do You Need To Conduct A Needs Assessment?

I really wish I had someone I could have asked this question in 2006. As a new social worker, I spent my second year in school studying abroad in Uganda. I was invited by a Catholic parish to help them conduct a needs assessment for the parish-supported schools. 

The vision for the needs assessment was for it to catalog all the current needs of the various school “campuses” so donors from other countries could fund projects to improve them. Sounds like a pretty straightforward project, or so 25 year-old me thought. 

I didn’t know the first thing about how to do this project, but I knew it would get done. When I looked up information about how to conduct a needs assessment, I found a limited amount of solid information about the how-to part. 

What I found generally indicated I needed some data and if I couldn’t find it I’d need to collect it myself. My qualitative research methods course had some additional information about how to do the quantitative and qualitative data collection part, but that was about it. 

How to Conduct A Needs Assessment- Fast Forward Via The Internet

Now you can find loads of resources about how to conduct a needs assessment online. You can even take courses in how to do it. But there is still a gap in the knowledge about how you do this quickly and efficiently to plan and scale social impact programs. 

The practical part of this knowledge still seems to be difficult for people to share because there are so many needs that can be assessed in so many ways. Taking that information and applying it to your programming is an advanced step that often gets missed in the ‘how to’ explanations. 

For this sake of this blog post, we’ll start the discussion with a practical place- what the heck are you looking for anyway? 

Understanding The Scope of The Problem

Data helps you understand the scope of the problem you are trying to change and how much change you can affect. The types of data you collect to understand the needs of the population you serve can vary depending on the social change you are trying to create. 

This blog post gives you a general list of the different types that you can collect and review to better understand the scope of the issue you are working on. 

12 Data Sources You Need 

This list is not exhaustive and is only meant to get you started on your quest to find the right data for your social problem. When I guide teams to conduct a needs assessment now, I’m grateful for the years of experience I’ve had to help grantees identify their needs. 

I can definitely say I’ve come a long way since my grad school days when I don’t think I knew 5 data sources to look for. 

Not all 12 of these data sources might be relevant or available to you as a member of the public. Take the suggestions that offer you the most support in what you are doing.

  1. Geography
  2. Age
  3. Gender/Gender Identity
  4. Race
  5. Poverty level
  6. Related social causes
  7. Access to available resources
  8. Policy
  9. Systemic-specific issues
  10. Regulations
  11. Funding
  12. State & National averages
Geography 

Data that demonstrates the nature of the problem in a distinct geographic area. Data and information that demonstrates the rate of something in a particular area is higher than the surrounding areas or the national/state average.

Age

Data that demonstrates what is going on for a particular age group or group of people in a particular developmental stage of life. 

Gender

Data that demonstrates rates among a particular gender or group of gender-identifying people. 

Race/Ethnicity

Data that demonstrates rates amongst a racial or ethnic group. Particular characteristics and information that is specific to a racial or ethnic group. 

Poverty Level

Data that demonstrates the rates of people living at or below the poverty line. Related data points that demonstrate economic hardship such as the number of children on the free and reduced lunch program. 

Related Social Causes

Data that demonstrates how your issue interacts with other social issues. The same root cause may contribute to your social issue and the related one. Your social issue might be a secondary effect of the related issue. Data can help you explore how your social issue is connected to or contributing to other outcomes. 

Access to Available Resources

Information that shows how accessible supports and resources are in your community or to you population of focus. 

Policy

Federal, state, and local policies that regulate or impact your social issue.

System Specific Issues 

Information about issues related to the systems that your social issue is related to or causes. Data might reflect how the system serves (or does not serve) in the way it was meant to.

Regulations

 Information about regulations that govern your social issue. These might be policies or they can be best practices or ethical standards. 

Funding

Resources that are currently being distributed to your social cause or that have the potential to be allocated to it. 

State & National Averages

State and national rates offer comparisons that help you describe and determine the scope of your problem.

How Do I Organize My Needs Assessment Data?

Organizing your data can be tricky if you are using the wrong tools. I advise my clients to use Airtable because it gives you lots of options to help you leverage your team to help you.

Airtable is similar to Google Sheets or Excel in that it allows you to store an immense amount of data in one place and it has columns and rows. The rest is up to your imagination. I’ve heard of people creating entire client management systems in Airtable.

So why couldn’t you use it to organize a needs assessment?

You can use Airtable to store quantitative data, qualitative data, and keep track of your project all in the same place. You can even create forms so people can directly give you data that you are looking for.

Check out this quick video where I give you an intro to what Airtable can do for your needs assessment.

Transform Your Needs Into Impact

Getting help to transform your needs into impact can be tricky. You need someone who can help you get your needs assessment moving and turn that into a feasible plan for growth.

If you’re ready to do that work, book a call with me right now so we can go over your plan to meet the needs of those you serve.

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