Looking at launching a capital campaign? If so, one of the first steps is often conducting a feasibility study. It’s like sending out the scouts to reconnoitre the territory ahead to find the right path and spot any dangers. Troy Yerkovich outlines the important elements of the feasibility study.
For most organisations, capital campaigns are a major undertaking. They require serious commitment from the organisation’s leadership in the form of time, money and reputation. With so much on the line, the feasibility study has become an almost compulsory pre-campaign tool to gauge the likelihood of success.
Feasibility studies consist mostly of qualitative research, sometimes backed up by quantitative measures, to produce an impartial “snapshot in time,” and are an example of both the art and science of fundraising.
The key objectives of the feasibility study are to:
Test the likelihood of achieving the fundraising target Identify prospective major donors Identify prospective volunteer campaign leaders Determine the importance of the proposed projects in donors’ minds Uncover any issues/challenges related to fundraising Suggest solutions to issues/challenges Paint a picture of how the organisation is viewed by its stakeholders and constituents Preparation Phase
The feasibility study follows a three stage process of preparation, interviews, and analysis and reporting, which usually takes around twelve weeks to complete.
The preparation phase includes the gathering of statistical and other information about the fundraising initiative and setting up the interviews. This includes:
Identifying interview candidates, top prospects and potential leadership candidates Drafting and sending an invitation to participate in the study Drafting a brief case for support Developing a gift table for the specific fundraising target Formulating an interview questionnaire Interview Phase
The interview phase involves seeking the opinions of approximately 30-40 key individuals associated with the organisation through a series of confidential discussions.
It’s critical that the study includes the right people. Internally these people are: some of the organisation’s board members; CEO; and senior program executives. Externally, the interview audience comprises potential major donors and campaign leaders. These people could be existing donors (or new donors who might have a natural interest in the project); the heads of trusts and foundations; and executives from corporates that might have a good fit with the project.
Many feasibility studies are conducted by fundraising consultants because they are in a position to ask frank questions about the organisation and receive greater objectivity in the response. This helps to provide the most accurate picture of the organisation and its chances of success.
Analysis and Reporting
Once all the data has been collected from the interviews it is evaluated and collated into a report which provides the findings, draws conclusions and makes recommendations.
The report highlights various important information such as: is there a sufficient pool of potential donors to support the project; were enough high quality volunteer leaders willing to commit time and their own gift to the project; is the fundraising target achievable; does the project resonate with stakeholders?
The interpretation of the data, the weighing up of strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats, is really more of an art than a science. You can use complex scoring devices, but when it comes to the crunch, it’s the ability to see the larger picture which helps make the ‘go’ or ‘no go’ decision.
People respect well conducted research, particularly in relation to important initiatives, and a good feasibility study will attract and qualify major supporters even before a campaign officially begins. In fact the feasibility study is actually the first subtle step in marketing the project to potential donors.
Should a capital fundraising campaign be discarded if a feasibility study shows there are serious deficiencies? Maybe – but not necessarily. Conducting a capital fundraising campaign can be a deliberate effort to address recognised weaknesses in an organisation.
Few organisations will embark on a capital fundraising campaign without first doing a feasibility study. Capital campaigns, by their nature, can be transformational projects that take organisations to new heights of service provision and fundraising achievement.
Get it wrong though, and capital campaigns can become a source of frustration, sapper of morale, and embarrassment for those involved. A well-conducted feasibility study can take some of the risk away by assessing the chances for success and finding any problems before they arise.
Troy Yerkovich has more than a decade’s experience in capital campaign fundraising and is the Chief Executive Officer of Fundraising Management Consultants.