When considering a capital campaign, it’s important to do a little testing first. There are two things you’ll want to test:
- The case for support (why people should give)
- The working goal (how much you hope to raise)
The “test” participants are your biggest prospective donors and community leaders, and the testing takes place in the form of a feasibility study. In other words, you will test to see if your campaign plan is feasible.
The success of your feasibility study will depend on how many prospective donors that have the capacity to make the largest gifts to your campaign participate in an interview. These are your best feasibility study participants.
7 Places to Find the Best Feasibility Study Participants
If you find that you are not able to get interviews with the largest donors, your study results will be disappointing. Make sure that those donors (or their representatives) are on the interviewee list. And do everything possible to ensure they participate.
To identify a list of good candidates for your feasibility study, make a list of at least 50 potential interview prospects. Include representatives from each of the following groups:
1. Potential lead donors
Start by reviewing a list of the people who have made the top 50 largest gifts to your organization in the last few years. Select the ones who have the potential (capacity) to be lead donors. You can discover this by doing a wealth screening and some basic research about what types of gifts (if any) they have made to other capital campaigns.
2. Committed long-term donors
You’ll also want to generate a list of your most committed, long-term donors. Depending on how long you have good donor records, you’ll want to look for people who’ve given for five or even ten or more years to your organization.
Long-term donors are deeply committed to your organization and your cause. They may have significantly more capacity than you were aware of and are perfect prospective donors for planned gifts.
3. Foundation representatives
Foundation representatives often have their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening philanthropically in the community. They will know about other upcoming campaigns and which organizations have successfully led campaigns. They are likely to know who the big givers are in the community and maybe willing to make introductions. Of course, foundations often have the ability to make leadership size gifts to a campaign, if they are so inclined.
4. Heads of large local corporations
Similar to foundation representatives, heads of large, local corporations are likely to know who the movers and shakers are in your community. They also have access to corporate funding, as well as the potential to make their own personal gifts.
5. Current and former board members
You will definitely want to include a handful of current and former board members in your feasibility study interview process. They care deeply about the organization and are familiar with your programs and services.
Board members are often the first to make gifts to a campaign and you will want them committed on a deep level. Many board members also have important historical knowledge and perspective about your organization.
6. Founders (if appropriate)
If the founders of your organization are still around, you’ll want to include them in your study and potentially reengage them in your campaign.
7. Other community leaders
For many of the reasons listed above, you will want to include a few other community leaders in your study. Possibly a politician (like a mayor or even council person) will offer a good perspective of what’s happening in your community. They are also in the position to introduce you to others, if so inclined.
Not All Feasibility Study Interviews are Treated Equally
As a rule of thumb, start with your biggest prospective donors and work your way down this list. You will give significantly more weight to someone’s opinion if they have the ability to make a leadership level gift, as opposed to a community leader who is only mildly interested.
For example, consider Donor A — she can give the lead gift of $1 Million dollars, loves the project and thinks you should move ahead. Compare that to Donor B, who has a strong personality and a loud voice, but he’s unlikely to give more than $1,000 and thinks your project is a bad idea.
In this scenario, you’ll give much more weight to Donor A. Donor B’s opinion doesn’t count nearly as much, because he doesn’t have the capability to move the project forward. Ideally, you want to interview the people on your “A list”, as they’ll provide you with the most accurate picture of what you can raise.
In addition, you may need to interview certain people (the founder or specific board members) for political reasons, but if they don’t have the ability to make big gifts or meaningful introductions to people who can, their opinions will count less when you tally your study results.
Consider a New Model for Your Feasibility Study
If you’re getting ready for a feasibility study and want to build stronger relationships with your donors and community leaders (and who doesn’t?), consider a new model — a Guided Feasibility Study.
In a Guided Feasibility Study, rather than sending in an outside consultant to do the interviews, you’ll save money and have the opportunity to speak directly with your donors.