So, what’s the problem?

For almost every grant application, your organization will need to define the community need that your proposal addresses. Sometimes called a ‘needs statement’, ‘problem statement’, or a ‘description of the opportunity’, what funders really want to know with this question is that you’ve researched the problem and have chosen the best course of action to bring about positive change. 

Basically, you need to answer a couple of questions: what is the problem you’re trying to solve? and how does this proposal help solve this problem? 

In You Have a Hammer, Barbara Floersch writes that a grant proposal “describes a problem that needs to be tackled, or an opportunity that should be seized, and makes a case for taking action.” I totally agree, and think that all of that can be done succinctly in a needs statement.   

How to do this? Define the problem in a few sentences, using current data and research about the extent of the problem, its causes and impacts, and the urgency of the problem. Then, speak of the opportunities for change and the possible leverages for influence, tying the change to your outcomes and impact. 

How not to do this? Don’t declare that the need is the lack of your program. That’s a circuitous argument and won’t get you very far. 

For example, if you’re applying for funding for an after-school program, the need is not the lack of an after-school program. The need would more likely be the current negative outcomes facing the kids in the community. There’s probably an opportunity to engage these kids with—you guessed it—an after-school program because teachers report that many kids don’t have sports or activities. Show how having these kids positively engaged between the hours of 3-6pm could reduce harmful behaviours, facilitate positive mentorships, and reduce those aforementioned negative outcomes.  

In short, show that you’ve done your research into the problem at whatever level your proposal is for (local, regional, national) and that your proposed initiative can tackle the problem effectively. This information is absolutely fundamental to the credibility of your proposal so if there isn’t a specific question about the need, then you’ve got to make your case in the project description. 

Read more Grant Writing Tips.