Academic journal article Journal of Health and Human Services Administration

Using Community Based Assessments to Strengthen Nonprofit-Government Collaboration and Service Delivery

Academic journal article Journal of Health and Human Services Administration

Using Community Based Assessments to Strengthen Nonprofit-Government Collaboration and Service Delivery

Article excerpt


Nonprofit organizations are key partners in the development, delivery, and evaluation of health and human services. One tool essential to effective partnerships in this area is conducting or supporting human service needs assessments. This responsibility is often left to government health and human services administrators. However, exploring the role of private nonprofits in this type of community-based research is especially relevant at this time for several reasons. First, because many governments are scaling back budgets, funds previously committed to research and needs assessment endeavors may now be lacking. Second, the economic downturn is equally affecting, if not exponentially impacting, nonprofit organizations--both because of increasing human service needs and dwindling resources to address those needs. Making the most of available resources, therefore, is more important than ever. Finally, the longer-term challenges faced by nonprofits in recent decades, which will likely continue and increase in the future, have required nonprofits to become effective strategists in the planning and delivery of their own services. Conducting and supporting human service needs assessments is a central function nonprofit organizations should incorporate to maximize their planning efforts and to benefit the local community.

There are also many benefits to having nonprofits take the lead to conduct such needs assessments. This article examines the role of nonprofits in community planning and research. The purpose and process of conducting human service needs assessments will be explored, including a detailed example of one needs assessment initiated by a local nonprofit organization in Clearwater, Florida. This example offers a model for nonprofit and government administrators responsible for monitoring and responding to the health and human service needs of local communities, or those serving special subpopulations, such as people living with mental illness, substance abuse, HIV, homelessness, physical disabilities, and other challenges. The article also explores follow-up steps that may be used by local nonprofit agencies to collaborate with community partners, including government and other nonprofit health and human service providers, to share research findings, engage in bottom-up community planning to address human service needs and maximize allocation of resources for all stakeholder groups.


At the same time human service needs are increasing, financial support is diminishing. Nonprofits are being impacted by decreasing private charitable donations and cuts in funding from government and private foundations that support human services (Bridgeland, 2009; Independent Sector, 2008; Lawrence, 2009; Reed et al., 2009). Economic challenges are nothing new to nonprofits. For years, nonprofit organizations have been coping with increased competition, higher expectations from the public and funders, increasing costs, declining support, rapidly changing technology, and substantially different ways of conducting business. In addition to strategies that generate new revenue sources (Dees, 1999; Salamon, 2001; Wolf, 1999), nonprofit managers must be effective strategists to respond to constant changes in their operating environment, to fulfill their missions, and to satisfy community needs (Akingbola, 2006; Bryson, 1995; Wolf, 1999).

Collaboration is one strategy that has long been advocated for nonprofit, for-profit, and government sectors to maximize administrative efficiency, avoid redundant effort, prevent costly competition for resources or clients, pursue collaborative funding opportunities, conduct joint planning and program development, and increase the impact of advocacy efforts (see Alexander, 2000; Eisenberg & Eschenfelder, 2009; Kohm & La Piana, 2003; Mandell, 2001; McLaughlin, 1998; Snavely & Tracy, 2000; Vogel, Ransom, Wai & Luisi, 2007). …

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