Conducting a community needs assessment is a common activity for foundations and other funding organizations, as the results are often used to determine grant-making priorities. It is important information. However, sometimes, the resulting assessment, filled with impressive and colorful charts and graphs, can be a complicated, dated document that does little more than sit on a shelf and gather dust.
The time was right for the Community Foundation to lead such an effort locally, but with a focus on making this resource as useful and accessible as possible, we decided on a very nontraditional approach to assessing community needs.
This past June, we launched the Community Snapshot website, as our community needs assessment. It is a centralized location to learn about broad community needs and the specific needs of individual nonprofits. The website is designed to be user-friendly for donors, nonprofit partners, local leaders, and others to examine the Washington County community through different lenses. Visitors to the website can see a panoramic view of the community’s overall needs through concise narratives on eight broad focus areas, or they can delve into the most pressing needs of a particular nonprofit. There is also a search function on the website to permit visitors with specific interests to quickly find the nonprofits working in that interest area.
The mobile-friendly website, which was programmed by the Tungsten Creative Group, also includes an accessibility tool allowing individuals with visual, hearing, cognitive, or motor impairments to navigate the content without barriers.
To gather data for the website and to provide the opportunity for a broad cross section of the community to be represented, we conducted an electronic survey and convened eight focus groups. Both the survey and focus groups were aligned with our eight funding areas: animal welfare, arts & humanities, community improvement & economic development, conservation & environment, education, health & fitness, human needs, and religion & faith-based.
Efficiency was another consideration. Rather than duplicating efforts, the Foundation partnered with other community groups who were already assessing data in a specific area. Links to the websites of those local partners, as well as links to other resources, are provided on the website for anyone wishing to learn more about a particular topic.
To ensure the information on the website remains current and accurate, the Foundation will annually conduct a community-wide survey and convene focus groups. Participating organizations will also be able to update their information on the website on an annual basis.
The early feedback for the website has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, we have already learned that both individual donors and institutional funders are using the site to learn more about local needs, which is likely to result in some financial support for several participating nonprofits.
All IRS approved nonprofits, educational institutions, and government entities or instrumentalities serving Washington County are eligible, and encouraged, to register on the website at CommunitySnapshot.org.
To the best of our knowledge, never before has a comprehensive community-wide needs assessment been conducted for Washington County, nor has there ever been a centralized location for community data. We are excited to provide this new service for Washington County!