The training needs assessment is an important tool for talent management, providing insight into performance gaps and helping organizations address a wide range of development experience, knowledge, and skills as efficiently as possible. It can also be a daunting and time-consuming endeavor.

Breaking your needs assessment down into manageable parts can make this complex task feel far less complicated. Below is a simplified version of the four-phase approach that Advancement Resources uses when partnering with clients to develop a comprehensive training program. We also included some valuable tips for each phase.

Phase 1: Planning

This phase is all about defining the scope of your assessment and ensuring proper preparation.

First, identify the target audience to be assessed. Then, determine how the audience should be segmented to acquire the most useful data. This may include segmentation by job position, years of experience, ability to achieve fundraising goals, etc. It is important to do this detailed work first, as it will shape and direct all work in subsequent phases.

Next, based on the target audience and segments identified, list the knowledge and skills to be assessed. This can be comprehensive, including all the knowledge and skills required to fulfill assigned job tasks successfully, or it can focus on a specific subset of knowledge and skills in question. A quick review of the metrics used to evaluate the performance of your target audience will help you identify priority areas for consideration. This work will serve as the foundation for developing both your quantitative and qualitative assessments.

Phase 2: Quantitative Assessment

Use the work completed in Phase 1 to build a quantitative survey. For target audiences larger than a dozen or so individuals, we recommend creating the survey in an electronic survey platform, such as Survey Monkey®. This will enable more efficient data collection and sorting.

Be sure to include survey items up front that focus on ascertaining the user’s segmentation. This will allow you to segment the collected data quickly in a variety of meaningful ways.

Based on the knowledge and skills to be assessed, create a series of survey items that require users to rate their own abilities (or the abilities of others) using a numerical scale. Although the five-point Likert scale is used most commonly, we recommend using a six-point scale to keep users from falling into a pattern of central tendency (selecting the number 3 for most of their answers).

Additionally, keep in mind that many people have difficulty appraising their own abilities. While this self-reported data will provide some insight, having managers and colleagues also assess the abilities of their direct reports and peers will increase the accuracy of your findings. You may also wish to include one or two short-answer questions in your survey to gather some initial qualitative data. Keep these to a minimum, as sorting a large quantity of verbatim responses can become unwieldy very quickly.

Distribute the survey to your target audience with a clear deadline for completion. A few days to a week will give users adequate time to respond. More extended deadlines will require interim reminders.

Phase 3: Qualitative Assessment

One of the most efficient ways to conduct a qualitative assessment is through focus groups. This involves conducting in-depth conversations of one to two hours in length with small cohorts of target audience members, who have been grouped according to your audience segmentation (job position, years of experience, ability to achieve fundraising goals, etc.).

Prepare focus group questions that will help you discover the reasons behind identified performance gaps. For example, if the quantitative survey reveals a need for major gift officers with less than five years of experience to receive training on how to secure appointments for first-time meetings with potential donors, you may want to ask the focus group(s) with less than five years of experience to describe the methods they use currently to get appointments and to identify their top three obstacles to success.

Keep your focus groups relatively small (6-10 people maximum) to ensure that everyone involved gets a chance to share his or her perspective on each topic. Also, audio- or video-record each focus group so you can transcribe the session and review the transcripts for common themes and key insights.

Phase 4: Analysis

During this phase, compare the results of the Quantitative Assessment with the results of the Qualitative Assessment. Be sure to note any common themes and distinct differences among your audience segments. Common themes will point you to training topics and skills that should be offered broadly across multiple audience segments, while distinct differences indicate topics and skills that should be addressed only with the specific audience segments who have presented a need.


It is not unusual for issues and challenges to arise during a training needs assessment that cannot be resolved through training. This might include everything from complicated systemic issues to simple communication problems. During the analysis phase, it will be critical to sort these non-training issues from true training needs in order to develop an effective training plan and manage the expectations of leadership.


For more information about separating non-training issues from training needs, download the “Training Needs Analysis Checklist.”

Download the “Training Needs Analysis Checklist”