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Proposal Narrative Series – Writing a Compelling Need Statement

Key Takeaways

1. The grant proposal narrative’s “Need Statement” or “Demonstration of Need” establishes

the “Why” for your proposed grant funded project or initiative.

2. Like characters in a short-story or novel, a detailed description of your target population and

their unmet need compels the reader to care.

3. A picture is worth 1,000 words! The effective presentation of data includes charts, tables,

graphs and maps.

“The Proposal Narrative “Need” Statement Drives the Proposal”

This article series builds upon the previous articles on grant readiness, grant prospecting and

grant trends to support Thrive DX partners in their grant pursuits. The Proposal Narrative Series

will provide insights into developing the following essential elements of a proposal narrative:

Need Statement; Project/Program Methodology & Approach; Project Workplan/Timeline;

Organizational Capabilities and Capacity; and, Logic model.

A compelling “Need” statement is the “Why” that drives the proposal narrative. The need

statement identifies the problem and/or unmet need in the target community that you plan to

address in your proposal. The Need Statement will define: who comprises your target

population; what the problem is that you are trying to solve and why; where your geographic

service area is; and, how your proposed program (initiative/intervention) will address the

problem you identified. A compelling need statement will also link the relevance of your grant

application to the funder's stated mission and goals.

Who Are You Serving? Like the characters in a short story or novel who drive the story as a

whole, the description of your target population and their need is key to funder understanding of

the importance, and possible impact, of your proposed project or intervention. Your descriptive

need statement needs to clearly identify who comprises your target population, including

demographic characteristics, size and geographic location or distribution.

What is the Problem? As your narrative defines your target population, it must also define the

problem you are trying to solve and why. It should include a clear description of the magnitude

of the need and the impact if the need continues to persist unaddressed.

Where is your service area? Your narrative should clearly describe the geographic service area

you are serving including geographic/physical boundaries of service area (e.g., city(ies) included,

county(ies), zip-code(s), etc.) Because a picture is worth a thousand words – also provide a map

if space permits and/or a map is available (to provide a pictorial overview of scope of area


How? Your narrative should clearly describe how your program address the identified problem.

This description should include identification of service gaps in the targeted service area that

your proposed program will address. This may be described in part by identifying whether there

are providers of your proposed services already in the service area and, if there are providers,

how you will increase access or increase numbers of people served.

Ok, surely someone noticed that the “When” was missing from the above description. That’s

because the project timeline is typically addressed in detail in another part of the proposal –

Project Workplan/Timeline. This will be addressed in a future article in this series.

Use Data to Effectively Tell the Story

A general rule when writing grants is to write assuming the reader/reviewer knows nothing about

you, your target population and/or your strategic partners. This is particularly true of the

objective review process of federal grant competitions where contracted external peer reviewers,

held to strict conflict-of-interest (COI) and confidentiality standards, will not be from your local

market. In this process peer reviewers evaluate and score each application according to the

Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) and its criteria for evaluation and are charged with

considering only what is written in the application. Remembering that reviewers are prohibited

from making assumptions or using external information or personal knowledge of the applicant

organization, suggests that your need statement needs to include as much clarifying and

descriptive detail in your proposal to help the reader truly understand who you are serving and

why it matters.

As you describe your targeted population and their need, you’ll need to conduct research and

gather data to tell your story in a way that is compelling. As you define the problem in your

narrative response, be sure to provide substantiated/sourced data, cited from external data

sources (e.g., demographic information clearinghouses, scholarly journals and articles, and

industry publications) to help validate your assertions about size/magnitude of the problem.

Additionally, the effective use of comparative data provides context to demonstrate compelling

need (e.g., % incidence in your target service area/population, v/s local county or state, v/s

national). To further demonstrate need, and why your organization is the answer to helping to

alleviate the problem, use data to identify gaps that currently exist in your service area that need

to be filled to meet the need of the targeted population. For example, when you present data of

workforce training needs in your market, indicate whether there are limitations in the number

and/or capacity of educational institutions in your area that provide the type of IT workforce

training and certifications to the target population you have identified in need.

In addition to local Community Needs Assessments (Health Departments and Area Hospital

Needs Assessments), Community Asset Maps, Universities and libraries, examples of potential

federal data sources include: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Clearinghouse for Labor Evaluation and

Research, Unemployment Insurance Data , Department of Education Research & Statistics and,

House & Urban Development, Office of Policy Development & Research.

The Stage is Set

Having established a clearly defined target population, geographic service area and problem or

unmet need to address, the stage has been set with a rationale for your proposed project approach

to address the identified need. Everything from your proposal narrative’s description of project

design to the evaluation criteria will be firmly rooted in your understanding of the needs or

problems you have identified and the anticipated impact of your proposed plan of approach.

Stay tuned for upcoming articles in the “Proposal Narrative” series that will provide more

information and tips, to support Thrive DX partner organizations in their grant pursuits.


Cheryl Townsel, S.M., President, Townsel Consulting, LLC

Dr. Bev Browning, CSPF, Director, Grant Writing Training Foundation

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