Conducting a comprehensive feasibility study is a critical first step in every major fundraising effort. I think of it as determining how much water is in the pool before you “dive in” to a fundraising campaign. It’s hard to find a nonprofit executive who would disagree with this logic. In my experience, the how and who aspects of the study are where many organizations tend to falter.
Overall, the feasibility study’s objective is to determine the viability of your project before you invest significant time and money into your fundraising campaign. How best to do that? Here are some tips to help guide you through a successful study:
The How — Asking The Right Questions
Delivering a quality study with care is extremely important. It should be 20 to 30 questions in length and be conducted by an outside organization to guarantee confidential and candid responses. The goal of the survey is to provide an outside perspective on your nonprofit organization (do you have asking rights): how people view the board, the effectiveness of the staff, the credibility of the organization itself, the direction of your plan and who in the community might lead the campaign.
Your questions should provide a clear picture of the perceptions of your business and community leaders. Specifics of your campaign initiatives and specific goals should be confirmed or refuted by the study, and hurdles should be addressed. For instance, if interviewees as a group cannot rate the effectiveness of the board or identify your organization’s accomplishments, you have some public relations work to do before embarking on a major fundraising effort.
Be sure your study questions are worded clearly to solicit unbiased feedback about your plan, outcomes, impact, and case for support. What is important to potential investors in your campaign? Always ask your stakeholders if there is anything missing – what would they like to see included in the plan that is not addressed?
The How — A Case Study
In a feasibility study we conducted for a community college, we knew many people being interviewed were already funding scholarships through a state-run Promise Program and might be hesitant to invest in supporting the school itself.
Our study confirmed this challenge early on, and we quickly huddled with school executives to form strategies for overcoming it. Together, we developed the strategy for a Student Opportunity Fund as part of the revised case for support. This Fund would allow investors to contribute specifically toward short-term financial needs for underserved student groups such as young mothers and would help increase graduation rates for those already benefitting from the state-funded program.
We also made securing a lead pledge from a prominent Promise Program supporter a top priority. This investor understood that infrastructure improvements were a necessity to accommodate increased enrollment at the college. This pace-setting commitment sent a strong message to the community that both the school and the state program needed support.
These two critical plan revisions allowed potential investors to see that their input was taken seriously. If people feel they have helped write the plan, they will have no objections to helping underwrite the plan. This $10 million capital campaign hit goal early and was extremely successful.
The Who — Creating Connection Through Interviews
As your interviews unfold and feasibility study answers come in, the conversations spurred by your initial questions are likely to provide keen insight into the overall level of confidence the community has in your nonprofit. It’s crucial that the company you have engaged to conduct your feasibility study interviews is listening to what is said as well as what is not being said.
The key consultant characteristics essential to this are soft skills such as adaptability, being a good listener, and trustworthiness. The connection that is created with investors during the feasibility study can help uncover individual and community motivations, concerns, and priorities. It can also help determine if your nonprofit has the credibility to move to the next step of your campaign.
The Who — A Case Study
In a study we conducted recently for a rural economic development organization, the importance of the consultant’s community connection and soft skills were evident.
The feasibility study, which included interviewing several key regional business leaders — and genuinely soliciting their input — led to the realization that educating potential investors would be critical to the success of the campaign. In the interviews, the need for job creation and talent retention was pointed to as a key to the future viability of the region.
These priorities were not spelled out explicitly by the answers that were given. Instead, they were understood by the consultant through follow-up questions, stories, and local examples provided by the business leaders. The consultant was able to give detailed feedback to the organization and help retool the case for support to ensure that these items were a focus. The end result? A capital campaign that raised 135 percent of its goal.
Overall, a well-written feasibility study executed by an experienced fundraising professional will tell you how deep (or shallow) the water is before you dive into your fundraising campaign and start raising money. With the right who and how, you should know without a doubt at the end of the study if your campaign is economically justifiable, supported by the community, and worth the time and resources needed for the campaign to succeed.
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