Making the case for your cause and maximising resources to address needs effectively has never been more crucial. Faced with the realities of government spending cuts and more competition for fewer funds, every organisation must be able to:
Do we really understand the needs we are addressing, or do we just assume so? Before our Needs Conference in June 2010, Richard Piper, Head of Strategy and Impact at NCVO, suggested that charities should get more sophisticated in thinking about need if they want to make the most of resources and create the biggest impact for their beneficiaries or cause.
Recently, there have been considerable shifts in the way needs are defined. These include:
- Growth in awareness of the importance of wellbeing, as explored, for example, by the Young Foundation, the New Economics Foundation and Demos.
- Focus on resilience - people’s ability to cope with and escape difficulty - as outlined in recent studies by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Young Foundation's major research into unmet needs.
As societal perceptions of needs change, organisations should also ensure that their own understanding of their beneficiaries or cause remains relevant. A comprehensive and up-to-date picture will enable organisations to identify priority issues and respond to needs effectively.
Growing collaboration – within and between sectors – requires agreement on the needs that are being addressed, an issue identified by Brian Carr of BVSC in his assessment of the Total Place pilot project in Birmingham at the NCVO needs conference 2010. Watch the video of his presentation:
To secure support for your work, it's vital to demonstrate that there is a clear need for it. It's important to gather evidence about the needs you are addressing and to communicate this information persuasively.
Sources of information
You should be able to find information about the needs you are addressing from a range of sources. Think creatively about who might hold relevant data and don't forget about the information you already have within your organisation.
You probably collect information about the needs you are addressing. Take a look at your monitoring and evaluation processes and draw out relevant details about the needs of your service users or cause. If you make assessments of situations when you begin work, this baseline data will be particularly useful. Make sure you tap into the knowledge held in the heads of your staff and volunteers.
If you feel there are gaps in your knowledge, consider conducting or commissioning research to learn more about your users or cause. Obviously, your service users - and non-users - are often the most important sources of information. But not all organisations do this, or manage it well. There are a range of techniques you could use, such as running focus groups or developing questionnaires.
Research bodies in the voluntary and community sector or in particular specialist fields often have valuable data. Try:
- Our Third Sector Foresight team's searchable database of drivers shaping the future of the voluntary and community sector, many of which relate to emerging or changing needs
- the NCVO voluntary sector datastore, a hub for information produced by our sector
- Economic and Social Research Council
- Third Sector Research Centre
- Nat Cen
- National Institute of Economic and Social Research.
- Other specialists in your field which umbrella or specialist resource agencies may be able to put you in touch with
- Government information sources, such as the Office for National Statistics which has a range of data, from demographics to economics and also produces an annual Social Trends publication, or Communities and Local Government (for Indices of Deprivation and other community-focused research) and the Government Office for Science’s foresight project The Sigma Scan
- Think tanks such as The Young Foundation, Demos, the Centre for Social Justice and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
- Market researchers such as Ipsos Mori, which gauge public attitudes and concerns.
The drive towards sharing information publicly has great potential for building up clearer pictures of need. The process of opening up government data began under the previous government, but the Coalition's Programme for Government contains a number of specific pledges to make governmnent more transparent, including the introduction of a 'right to data' held by government bodies.
David Kane, our Research Development Officer, explores the likely benefits of this move in his blog open data and the voluntary sector. A presentation from Nick Booth of Podnosh, at the NCVO needs conference (June 2010) also explores the positive implications of open data for understanding needs but also challenges charities to share their own data for the common good.
To ensure you describe your beneficiaries' needs in a meaningful way, it's important to talk your audience's language and demonstrate how your cause fits with current agendas and priorities (for example, The Big Society).
If you choose to respond to needs through campaigns work, our campaigning effectiveness advice and resources will help you develop a convincing case.
A key challenge for many organisations is selecting which needs to address. Segmentation and targeting can help you identify your main user group(s), develop services that better meet their needs and reduce your exposure to competition or unnecessary duplication, by identifying a niche for your work.
Create the right impact
A clear understanding of needs should be at the heart of your planning processes. Make sure you feed this information into decisions about the impact you want to create. This will then help to ensure you design the most effective services or campaigns to meet the needs you want to address, and to deliver the best outcomes for your beneficiaries or cause.
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