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Jan 23, 2021

Grantee Needs Assessment

As a community-driven foundation, Headwaters strives to listen and respond to the needs of the communities they serve. During Spring 2021, Headwaters commissioned a team of researchers based at the University of Montana to conduct a needs assessment to identify the challenges and priorities among grantees related to organizational capacity, advocacy, and community leadership. A secondary aim was to identify a range of potential activities or strategies that Headwaters could implement to support grantees and other organizations working in Western Montana. 

A total of 98 grantee representatives were identified by Headwaters staff and invited to participate. Eighty-eight (88) grantees completed at least some of the questionnaire for an overall response rate of 90%. The needs assessment included a section to understand organizational characteristics and then assessed barriers and facilitators under four primary areas including: 1. Organizational Capacity; 2. Advocacy; 3. Community Leadership; and 4. Collaboration & Networking. 

Below, we list the top needs and priorities identified under each of these areas. 

  1. Organizational Capacity 

Capacity was defined as the time, skills, resources, and support needed to successfully engage in or complete an activity. Grantees identified the following six areas as those with the most room to grow in terms of organizational capacity. 

  1. Recruiting and retaining staff and Board members 
  2. Fundraising and grant writing 
  3. Working with public officials and policymakers to address social issues 
  4. Marketing and advertising to increase public awareness and knowledge 
  5. Evaluating and communicating the impact of their work 
  6. Community engagement including volunteer recruitment, engagement, and coordination


  1. Advocacy 

Almost all grantees (87%) expressed a strong or moderate interest to engage in more advocacy work. Approximately one-third to one-half of all respondents indicated a strong interest in receiving training in the following advocacy activities: 

  1. Website development and maintenance 
  2. Media engagement, including social media, TV, radio, and print media 
  3. Hosting an educational or informational session or event 
  4. Developing print materials such as flyers, posters, fact sheets, or reports 
  5. Engaging with local legislators, public officials, or policymakers 

The most common barriers to advocacy work include: 

  1. Limited staff time 
  2. Lack of funding to support advocacy efforts 
  3. Limited staff skills or knowledge about effective advocacy 
  4. Concerns about 501(c)3 compliance 
  1. Community Leadership 

The majority (80%) of grantees feel that they are very well to moderately equipped or prepared to act as community leaders on issues that are important to them. Respondents identified a range of community goals, with the following issues being prioritized: 

  1. Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion 
  2. Basic need fulfillment 
  3. Reduced stigma of mental illness & innovation in crisis response 
  4. Collaboration & meaningful connection 
  5. Health, conservation, & sustainability 
  6. Dignity, life sovereignty, & belonging 
  7. Prioritization of families & children 

The most significant barriers impeding the achievement of these community-wide goals included: 

  1. Lack of financial resources 
  2. Lack of coordinated efforts across multiple organizations 
  3. Lack of community recognition that these issues are important 
  4. Lack of resources related to infrastructure 
  5. Lack of human resources – too few people working together, too few investments in social and human capital 
  1. Collaboration & Networking 

Most (75%) of grantees are members of an advisory council or something similar and 61% of grantees are currently engaged in coalition work or they are members of a community impact group, although one-quarter (25%) are not. 

Many grantees expressed a desire to work more collaboratively or to be in more direct conversation with other Headwaters’ grantees. The reasons for wanting more communication and collaboration opportunities include: 

  1. Sharing best practices and lessons learned with one another 
  2. Learning more about what other organizations are doing 
  3. Sharing resources 
  4. Discussing barriers and brainstorming potential solutions together 
  5. Implementing ways to support each other 

In the following report, we summarize the findings and contextualize the quantitative survey results with quotes from individual respondents who provided more information and insights as to the challenges they face and their plans for making progress in achieving their goals. In several instances, specific recommendations are made for how Headwaters Foundation may take action to address these needs and to support ongoing efforts.