Community Needs Assessment

There are a wide variety of resources available to assist students in research related to needs in the community. Most Students4Giving℠ courses rely on the United Way, local community foundations, and other respected data sources such as local Kids Count fact books to identify community needs and gaps in community funding that align with their philanthropic missions. In most cases, classes also invite community leaders to campus to share their perspectives on key issues and to discuss effective approaches for addressing those needs.

The definition of “community” for each college typically depends on its unique approach to institutional, student, and faculty civic engagement. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s mission is linked to statewide service, as is their Giving Account. Service-learning and civic engagement work at Providence College is focused on the development of partnerships with nonprofits serving the neighborhood immediately surrounding the school. The Providence College Giving Account targets support for organizations serving residents in the Smith Hill neighborhood.

Campus Resources

When developing an experiential philanthropy course, campus offices for public service or civic engagement are invaluable resources. These hubs for service and service-learning activities have existing relationships with local nonprofit agencies. They are resources for information about existing campus-community partnerships, service and service-learning activities, institutional civic engagement priorities, community needs, and more. They are resources for making connections with nonprofit leaders as co-educators and guest lecturers, and can provide assistance with publicizing student Requests for Proposals. Most importantly, offices of public service can work with faculty to align student giving activities with goals for deepening campus-community partnerships.

Alternative Approach: Identifying community needs through a collaborative course

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte: UNC Charlotte’s philanthropy course is offered at the graduate level for students pursuing a Masters in Social Work (MSW). Students in the Social Work Practice course (offered during the spring semester) identify and analyze current community-based needs assessments in three areas: children/families, health/mental health, and gerontology. The MSW Program at UNC Charlotte identifies these three areas as curricular “field of practice emphases” for instruction and professional development. The class further identifies a specific community need that would benefit from a small grant. These recommendations are utilized by the Philanthropy and Social Work summer course (which does the grant making) to develop requests for proposals, establish criteria for evaluating proposals, and allocate funding amounts.

Best practice spotlight: Community-informed philanthropy at Northeastern University

To “ensure that Northeastern Students4Giving, a new student-led philanthropic initiative, is responsive to real needs in Boston’s urban neighborhoods and to the many challenges facing nonprofit organizations today,” Northeastern University invites nonprofit leaders from Boston to gather on campus for a three-hour discussion and workshop to inform the work of their philanthropy course. The “Community Dialogue about Northeastern Students4Giving and Community Informed Philanthropy” involves students, faculty, and community leaders in addressing the following questions:

  • What can student grantmakers learn from community members and nonprofit leaders regarding funding priorities in the target neighborhoods of Mission Hill, Fenway, Roxbury, and the South End?
  • How can student grantmakers and nonprofit organizations work together to make the grant application, review, and reporting processes as manageable and meaningful as possible?
  • What kinds of grants are most likely to help nonprofit organizations achieve impact?
  • How can lessons learned by Northeastern Students4Giving students through their dialogue with community members and nonprofit leaders be shared with Boston’s broader nonprofit and philanthropic communities?

Northeastern University is deliberate in using the Community Dialogue as an opportunity to enrich ongoing community engagement efforts. It provides a vehicle for engaging nonprofit partners in new ways and another means of ensuring that community voices are central to expanded service-learning efforts.

Nonprofit leaders attending Northeastern University’s Community-Informed Philanthropy Dialogue indicated that they would like to see more donors openly affirm their confidence in nonprofits’ ability to identify a community’s most urgent needs and then trust them to spend grant money wisely to meet those identified needs.

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