Proposal Toolkit


Section 5: Narrative - Statement of Need

If there is no problem, there is no reason to write a proposal.  For the most part, funders see themselves as partners with various institutions to resolve problems that, when resolved, serve the public good.  A good example from the funder's perspective is the message from the President and CEO of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation in its 2007 Annual Report:

"The W. K. Kellogg Foundation has a unique opportunity to assess the spirit of our times and set a long-term course to help shape the future of our nation and its communities." (2008, p. 1)

The problem may be expressed broadly--relating to a problem that is faced nationwide.  It may then be expressed locally--relating to the regional or institutional problem you face and hope to resolve with the help of your funding partner.

The broad and local nature of problems dictates the research needed to document the existence of a problem.  For instance, a problem such as "at-risk" students at the secondary level is known and you might cite a recent national study that refers to the situation.  The bulk of this section would then be dedicated to documenting the local problem that you are attempting to solve.  In planning your research, brainstorming with other experts will help you identify numerous aspects of the problem and where the information exists that helps document that the problem is real and serious.


  • A description of the problem
  • Needs assessment--produced by another group or done specifically to document the local problem
  • Background or historical information that supports the existence and seriousness of the problem
  • Negative impacts of the problem--what the organization is failing to achieve due to the existence of the problem
  • Sound and current data and statistics to illustrate the problem

In I'll Grant You That, authors Jim Burke and Carol Ann Prater (2000) list some tips for an effective Problem Statement:

--Identify problems, not solutions
--Identify needs, not wants
--Focus on the client's needs instead of the organization's
--Look committed, not greedy
--Use many types of evidence and data to validate the need.

University of Tennessee Tutorial

Next: Project Description >>