A needs assessment is a systematic process to acquire an accurate, thorough picture of a system's strengths and weaknesses, in order to improve it and meet existing and future challenges.

Using both qualitative and quantitative research, a needs assessment can identify gaps in programs, training, services, and/or outreach efforts. It can also identify and solve performance problems. Needs assessments set out to determine what results must be accomplished and then make recommendations about which activities—typically combinations of numerous activities—will be most useful to achieve those results.

True needs assessments have some common characteristics:

  • A set list of questions to be answered
  • A determined sample of the number and types of people to answer these questions
  • Conducted by personal interview, phone, or written response (e.g. a mail-in survey)
  • Results are tabulated, summarized, distributed, discussed, and (last, but not least) used

A SOAR Analysis is one type of needs assessment that you may choose to conduct.

Many strategic plans sit on bookshelves gathering dust, rather than becoming living documents. When you pair your strategic planning efforts with a needs assessment, you can help identify your association’s future direction.

While strategic planning ensures that the association knows where it’s going, a needs assessment will provide critical information to help you make important decisions on behalf of your members.