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  • Marty Zimmerman

Shifting The Lens From Needs To Assets

Updated: May 30

Building communities graphic

In recent years, the nonprofit sector has started to see a shift away from the traditional needs-based approach to community problem solving as it moves towards asset-based community building. The needs-based approach begins by identifying communities’ needs and problems. While all communities have their own unique needs and problems that should be acknowledged and addressed, an ongoing focus on problems and deficits may result in widespread negativity throughout the community, which can make it difficult to motivate positive change. Further, this approach reinforces the belief that solutions must come from outside experts and supports a continuing reliance on helping agencies and the programs and services they provide. Needs-based approaches tend to limit constituent involvement and do work for the community instead of with the community. These types of approaches, while helpful to many in the community, are temporary, short-term fixes that fail to adequately acknowledge and address the root of the problems faced by communities. Therefore, needs-based solution lack long-term sustainability, as they do not address issues holistically (Pretorius and Nell, 2018).

After years of persistent social and economic problems and an overworked, underfunded nonprofit sector, people started looking for different approaches to community development. They arrived at asset-based community building, which stems from the idea that social and economic problems can only be addressed effectively when the whole community is involved in the process. This approach focuses on the community’s strengths: what resources a community already has that can contribute to problem solving and realizing goals. As follows, the key to asset-based approaches is to engage all sectors of the community, including local institutions, citizens’ associations, cultural groups, and gifts of individuals. Conversations with communities illuminate what people care about, how they see the situation, what they want to offer, and ultimately assist nonprofits in finding what motivates people to act. Shifting from an outside-in diagnoses of problems and solutions to inside-out questions about care makes it clear who is ready to act and what motivates them to want to do so. By mobilizing strengths and creating new partnerships across sectors, asset-based approaches aim to create new social inventions and sustainably solve local problems alongside communities impacted by them (Green, Moore, O’Brien, 2011).

Which approach does your organization use?

Two Paths - Two Solutions T-Chart

(Green, Moore, O’Brien, 2011)

For more information on asset-based community development and how to implement it, check out:

When People Care Enough to Act by Mike Green, Henry Moore & John O’Brien (2011)

Building Communities from the Inside Out by John McKnight (1993)


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