Community Needs Assessment - FAQ's

How often must our program complete a Community Needs Assessment (CNA) ?

The frequency of your CNA depends on the requirements of your funding source.  For Head Start and Early Head Start grants,1302.11 (b) states: Community wide strategic planning and needs assessment (community assessment). (1) To design a program that meets community needs, and builds on strengths and resources, a program must conduct a community assessment at least once over the five-year grant period. Due to the ever changing communities served we recommend an annual update that identifies any changes that impact your program.  Some funding sources, such as SAMHSA, require a new CNA after the initial funding is awarded.

What information should be in the Community Assessment?

The requirements of the CNA depend on the funding source.  Some funding sources, such as Head Start and Early Head Start, spell out the contents (see For some non-profit entities, there are IRS regulations governing what must be included.  It’s important to learn what your funding agency requires and to follow those requirements carefully.  You may choose to include additional information beyond what is required, i.e. goals and objectives to help in your planning, or data to address specific challenges your community faces, or information guiding services to special populations.  In any case, trend data is more important than point-in-time data.  It’s critical to understand which factors are improving, which are getting worse, and how that is impacting where your program will place its resources.

Who should participate in the Community Assessment?

Those involved in your community in providing services to the targeted populations will likely have insights into where resources should be invested. Often, communities focus on one area, say literacy or nutrition, and many funding sources are directed to that area. This can result in several social service agencies addressing the same needs for the same population, while other needs go unaddressed. Make sure you also get a good cross section of your community: business leaders, police, government agencies, education, transportation, health care, etc. Those who deal with the public in any way will have unique perspectives. By putting a variety of perspectives together, you can get a more representative “big picture”… be willing to stray from your typical sources… you will be pleasantly surprised by the creative input and solutions from the most unlikely sources.

How long does it take to complete a Community Assessment?

A full assessment includes a review of secondary data, as well as the collection and analysis of fresh primary data from focus groups and surveys. It typically takes several months to complete a quality CNA. An update or addendum can sometimes be completed in as little as 6-8 weeks. Plan ahead, a current Community Assessment is required for your funding applications.

Where can I find the data I need?

There are many resources you can access that will include statistical data. For example, the national census, conducted every 10 years, is rich with data. However, that data becomes stale after a few years. States, counties, and municipalities often collect data for public use. This can include city planning documents, health department reports, and school system reports. Some non-profits also fund data collection. Universities, philanthropic organizations, and foundations are often a good source of data.

Primary data collected from surveys, interviews and focus groups can help provide a more narrow perspective, down to the area of specific neighborhoods, populations, ages, and ethnic groups. Use these research methods for both quantitative and qualitative data.

What format should my Community Assessment be in?

You will need to create a “document” format of your CNA. Usually an electronic document is enough to satisfy the needs of the funding agency (be sure to check with your specific funding source). You may find it useful to create a presentation summary that can be used by executives, government officials, or partners for the purposes of communicating what your program is doing and why.

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