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October 26, 2017

Insider Insight Into Effective Needs Assessments

Insider Insight Into Effective Needs Assessments


You believe your development team and their internal allies and partners need training to elevate and optimize your organization's fundraising results. But what type of training? How long should the training be? Should it be a single workshop or a series of engagements? Should training be matched up with online reinforcement and a performance partner?


There are so many questions to answer, and the answers may not be clear. One way to address this situation is to conduct a needs assessment to identify the specific needs of the team and the gaps within their skillset. This way, training can be customized to address the specific challenges of the audience and maximize their success going forward.


Here is a seven-step process for an effective development training needs assessment:


Step #1: Identify target groups to be assessed.

Typically these include:

  • Frontline fundraisers
  • Fundraising supervisors
  • Organizational leaders

As you identify target groups, keep in mind that this assessment will help you uncover areas that need to be addressed through training, as well as areas that may well be addressed through other means—consulting, perhaps, or internal restructuring. Knowing that the needs assessment can provide insights into more than just training, think broadly about where your organization can improve the most for the largest payoff.

Step #2: Develop an online survey for each target audience.

It is important to ensure that the survey isn’t too demanding on the participants’ time, yet is detailed enough to uncover meaningful results. Ask participants to rate their own skill and comfort levels, and avoid “why” questions and invitations to expand on answers. There will be opportunities for details in later phases of the needs assessment, but this phase should be focused on uncovering useful statistics related to professional achievement.

Step #3: Send the online customized surveys to the target groups.

Invite them to participate in such a way that maximizes their engagement and also builds excitement, and team buy-in, into the entire needs assessment process. When needs assessments are framed as a professional development opportunity, participants are often eager to contribute. Ensuring participants’ anonymity and introducing a third party to implement the survey can also encourage candidness.

Step #4: Analyze the online survey findings to uncover insights.

It is important to recognize that the online survey does not by itself provide you with any answers; rather, it provides you with intelligent questions to ask in the subsequent steps in the needs assessment process. For example, knowing that your team scores lower than expected for confidence regarding securing meetings is, in itself, not that valuable. But, it leads you to the vital question “Why does my team lack confidence securing meetings?” It is this level of detail that elevates the subsequent efficacy of your training program. Instead of simply providing general training, you can tailor the training to address and improve the exact issues that are holding your team back.

Step #5: Conduct in-person, detailed focus groups with representatives of each target group.

Armed with the critical follow-up questions revealed by the online survey, aim to have an inspiring, frank, and meaningful conversation with each group, to reveal:


  • Enlightening “why” answers to the issues uncovered by the online surveys.
  • How your team truly feels about the current development culture at your institution.
  • Details on the specific areas in which your team is strong and ideas for how to maximize these strengths.
  • Details on the specific challenges faced by your team and how frequent and pressing those challenges are to them.
  • What your team considers priority training topics and where they think they need most help.

Step #6: Combine insights from the focus group findings and the results from the online surveys.

Prepare a detailed report that will lay bare all the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges currently faced by your team. Keeping in mind that different needs require various responses, identify which of the revealed needs are best addressed through training. You will then be able to conclude the report with an expert assessment of exactly what your development training curriculum should be in order to best boost your team’s morale, heighten their strengths, and dissolve their most pressing fundraising obstacles.

Step #7: Make smarter development training choices.

The fun part! Now, with your report in hand, you get to decide what your next steps should be to implement your plan with full confidence that you are making decisions based on the best possible information.

Needs assessments can be conducted with internal resources or by an outside firm. Research shows that by having an outside organization facilitate the assessment process, participants are more open and honest, resulting in a clearer picture of the current environment. Additionally, an outside partner provides an unbiased perspective and can identify opportunities for improvement that insiders may overlook.


To explore having Advancement Resources conduct your development training needs assessment, contact us at 319-398-3376.



Other posts you might be interested in:



4 Phases for Assessing Your Training Needs

The Future of Development Training: Is Your Organization Ready?

The Future of Development Training: Is Your Organization Ready?

Time and Training: Two Keys to Sustained Fundraising Success

Time and Training: Two Keys to Sustained Fundraising Success



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