There is always a lot of chatter in the nonprofit world about feasibility studies and whether they are worth the money or really necessary. Most of this conversation comes from a misunderstanding of what a well-run feasibility study really is and what it does.
A fundraising feasibility study provides the necessary sharp focus to get organized for a capital campaign. It is not a separate activity from a campaign but really the vital first steps.
We believe it is best to see the study as the first part of a successful capital campaign. And we have definitely been involved in campaigns that have NOT done studies, always to their eventual detriment. When organizations choose not to conduct a study they are short circuiting the process and that eventually comes back to haunt them via missing information and constituent opinions, low volunteer participation, a case that does not resonate, etc.
Our approach to feasibility studies is guided by a simple principle we learned years ago from Andrea Kihlstedt: Engagement Yields Investment. Every action we take is geared toward engaging internal and external constituents in order to create shared ownership of your project by your community. This principle guides everything from our first meetings to learn about your leadership, to writing a case statement that includes the perspectives of key players, to how we conduct the interviews with an eye to inspiring prospective donors to get involved.
Nonprofit leaders often wonder why a feasibility study is needed. We frequently get asked: “Can’t we just do without it since we’ll save money and time?” And, “Why bother since we’re committed to the new building and need a campaign anyway?”
Here’s what a well-conceived study will do:
Provide a context to get all your fundraising systems, communication and concepts in place so that you can prove to yourselves and your community that you can make a campaign happen.
Clarify the Case for Support – This document is much more than a brochure and much different than a grant proposal. It needs to be started early and given careful consideration because it tells the story of your project with the necessary excitement that will rally internal and external players to participate.
Determine how much money can be raised and from what sources including individuals (mostly), foundations and corporations (much less so). This is, of course, the crux of the matter and a study is the perfect platform to address this question.
Determine when to start a capital campaign as well as its duration.
Use the interview process as a first step in cultivating potential top donors including Campaign Planning Committee members.
Use the interview process to determine public perceptions of this potential project.
Assess the larger landscape regarding competitors, cultural issues, and community.
Assess immediate next steps and a roadmap for a capital campaign and fundraising staffing structures.
The methodology we use to reach these goals involves meetings, interviews, and strategic actions that are carefully planned and scheduled to fit a tight timeline. Once we have conducted the interviews, we use a handful of campaign planning metrics to analyze the information and data we receive from our meetings and interviews to arrive at our recommendations.