A community needs assessment is a systematic process for identifying salient socio-political community issues, such as poverty, crime, health, education or unemployment. These are broad examples of topics that a needs assessment may identify as issues in a community with gaps between what is and what should be. Community needs assessments are effective when used to inform initiatives and programs meant to improve a community's societal well-being. Needs assessments may reveal concrete needs such as an improved system of public transportation, or a need that is more abstract and conceptual, such as a the need for a community to be more informed about issues of environmental health and sustainable living.
As previously discussed, effective corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs and initiatives generate both a societal benefit, and a business benefit, allowing for sustainable and credible corporate philanthropy. The concept of context-focused giving discusses how corporate philanthropy and business strategy can be combined by identifying contextual conditions most important to a company's strategy, growth and operations and developing a giving program that improves the nature of this context, creating social and economic benefits.
Corporate social responsibility should be geared toward addressing real needs in a community. Without referencing or conducting an analysis that identifies and measures community needs, giving programs are based in good ideas rather than solid evidence. Community needs assessments identify community needs as well as community assets and resources. Utilizing your community's strengths to address its weaknesses makes perfect sense, and a needs assessment will clearly identify both. Community needs assessments help organizations and individuals to better understand their communities and the potential micro-communities that exist within them. The biggest benefit to utilizing or conducting a community needs assessment is that it helps identify priorities for community improvement and to inform evidence-based, and often more effective, strategies for generating social and/or environmental community benefits.
Your company need not conduct its own community needs assessment to identify areas of improvement to target for your CSR programs. There are many community need assessments that have already been conducted and are available for review by the public. Most often, government or non-profit agencies have been responsible for conducting community needs assessments. A simple internet search can more than likely lead you to one or more community needs assessments that have been conducted for the area in which your company operates.
If you are not able to find a needs assessment that has already been conducted for your community, or if for any reason you would rather conduct your own community needs assessment, there are many tools and resources available for your CSR team to create your company's own. One great resource for learning more about community needs assessments is The Community Tool Box, a service of the Work Group for Community Health and Development at the University of Kansas. One of their services is "Learn a Skill," a 46-chapter resource that provides information about a wide-variety of skills and practices for building and improving community. Chapter 3 provides an in-depth look at community needs assessments with many tools and strategies for conducting one. Another great resource is James W. Altschuld's "The Needs Assessment KIT," a set of 5 books that explain needs assessments, and takes readers through the phases of conducting a needs assessment and subsequent plan of community action.