It’s rare for there to be real innovation and change in fundraising, or in most sectors for that matter. Every once in a while, however, a new idea emerges which is so radical, so revolutionary, it makes you want to scream, “I wish I’d thought of that!”
The Predominant Feasibility Study Methods Both Have Drawbacks
For decades, fundraising feasibility studies have been the same. An organization planning a capital campaign hires an outside expert (AKA consultant or counsel) to interview the biggest potential donors and community leaders to assess the feasibility or possibility of a successful fundraising effort.
Alternatively, an organization’s leaders decide they don’t want to work with a consultant (or can’t afford one), so they skip the process altogether or “wing it.”
A few years back, Andrea Kihlstedt, co-founder of the Capital Campaign Toolkit, had the idea that neither of the above scenarios were good for donors, executive directors, or organizations. So let’s look at their drawbacks.
1. Consultant-Led Feasibility Study
In the traditional consultant-led model:
- The non-profit leaders miss an important opportunity to build relationships with donors prior to asking for gifts.
- Anonymous, confidential conversations with interviewees lead to vague and confusing final reports. Organizational leaders are left scratching their heads as to who said what.
- It’s expensive.
2. Do-It-Yourself Feasibility Study
In a DIY “wing-it” model:
- Nonprofit leaders aren’t confident about who to interview, what questions to ask, or how to accurately assess giving potential.
- Board members don’t have confidence in the results or recommendations (if formal ones are even made at all).
- By skipping feasibility testing altogether organizations have little idea whether their fundraising goals are achievable and are flying blind.
A Revolutionary Idea for Conducting Feasibility Studies
It was clear to Andrea that people need a better way to assess the potential of and prepare for a campaign. So a few years back, we put our thinking caps on…
Why not have nonprofit leaders interview their own donors prior to a campaign with the support and guidance of an experienced consultant?
This would take the mystery out of the process. And the real bonus would be to provide a genuine opportunity to build relationships with, and ask for advice from, individuals prior to asking them for a gift to the campaign.
Nonprofit leaders and their boards would feel confident about their process and results because an experienced consultant would be with them every step of the way (except in the actual interviews).
New Model: The Guided Feasibility Study
A Guided Feasibility Study combines the best of both worlds — organizations have the guidance of an outside expert and also have the opportunity to build relationships with prospective donors prior to the official campaign.
Prospective donors actually get to engage with the leaders of a nonprofit in a meaningful way. Asking for advice prior to asking for money finally has real meaning!
A Major Myth Debunked
There’s a myth that traditional feasibility studies work well because donors are more likely to express frustrations to outside consultants than internal leaders.
We’ve found that simply isn’t true. In fact, donors love speaking with nonprofit leaders directly and having their concerns addressed.
When consultants hear frustrations and concerns in interviews, there’s often no recourse due to the confidential nature of the interview process. That leaves donor concerns unaddressed by nonprofit leadership because they have no idea who said what.
Plus an Unexpected Benefit
On multiple occasions during a number of Guided Feasibility Studies, study participants have made large gift commitments long before a campaign even starts.
We’ve found that when nonprofit leaders speak directly with potential donors about their vision for the campaign, their enthusiasm is contagious and donors can’t wait to support the project.
In many cases, organizations are receiving larger and earlier commitments than they ever expected.
A Caveat: Guided Feasibility Studies Aren’t for Everyone
The key to success in a Guided Feasibility Study is that an organization must have competent, capable staff and volunteers (2-3 individuals) who are willing and able to conduct the interviews. It’s a huge time commitment and it requires great listening skills.
Is a Guided Feasibility Study Right for You?
If you’re interested in discussing whether a Guided Feasibility Study is right for your organization, click here to apply for a free strategy session with one of our campaign experts. We’ll help you determine the best approach for conducting your feasibility study — no strings attached.