Feasibility studies build confidence and credibility for capital campaigns. Rather than just diving into a capital campaign with a very big goal, most organizations begin with a study to evaluate the potential of the campaign. They want some degree of certainty that the campaign has the potential for success.
For decades, organizations have brought in an outside consultant to conduct their feasibility. A consulting firm conducts interviews with the most influential people including, if possible, the organization’s largest donors. The consultant then collates the results and sets out campaign recommendations to the board and staff.
Here at the Capital Campaign Toolkit, we encourage nonprofit leaders to consider conducting their own feasibility studies. Why? It’s because there are significant benefits to meeting with your most prominent supporters to build relationships prior to the start of your campaign. It’s also possible to determine the feasibility of your capital campaign without sending in an outside consultant.
Quick Links — There’s a great deal to know about capital campaign feasibility studies. We’ll jump-start your understanding of this important topic in the sections below:
- What Is A Capital Campaign Feasibility Study?
- One Common Misconception About Feasibility Studies
- 17 Capital Campaign Feasibility Study Questions to Kick-Start Your Research
- Analyzing the Feasibility Study Responses
Read on to learn the ins and outs of conducting a feasibility study for your capital campaign.
Let’s get started!
What is a Capital Campaign Feasibility Study?
A capital campaign feasibility study is a way of testing your plan and goals for an upcoming capital campaign by asking the advice and opinions of your largest donors and other community leaders. Their collective advice will help determine whether your case for support and financial goals are realistic and feasible.
Traditionally, feasibility studies are conducted by capital campaign consultants who help design the study, conduct the donor interviews, develop a report and present the results to your board.
During conversations (or “interviews”) with these largest donors, the consultant presents the preliminary campaign plans and collects feedback.
A typical feasibility study involves a range of participants. Don’t just turn to your database of past donors to find feasibility study participants. Consider speaking to all of the following:
- Potential major donors for your campaign.
- Long-term supporters with a proven track record.
- Representatives from foundations in your community.
- Heads of large local corporations.
- Current and past board members.
- Founding members of your organization.
- Leaders in your community.
Speaking with prospects that represent a wide range of potential major donors and opinion leaders will ensure that you get feedback about your project from influential people representing different viewpoints in your community.
Though a traditional feasibility study relies on hiring outside consultants, some organizations prefer to conduct the study themselves. Read the next section to learn more about the alternative approach.
One Common Misconception About Feasibility Studies
When you began to research conducting a feasibility study for your campaign, you undoubtedly ran into one specific piece of advice over and over again:
Hire a capital campaign consultant to conduct the study.
Consultants offer a variety of reasons why their role as outside experts gives them objectivity and credibility. Some say that major donor prospects are more likely to be honest if they’re speaking to a third party. Others argue that it’s crucial to have an unbiased eye when evaluating the results of the campaign.
We’ve found that there’s a better way.
3 Reasons NOT to Hire a Consultant to Conduct a Feasibility Study
The fact of the matter is, a consultant-led feasibility study can fail your campaign.
- It’s a missed opportunity for you to build relationships.
The feasibility study provides your leaders (as opposed to an outside consultant) with a valuable opportunity to build and strengthen their relationships with major donors early in the campaign planning process.
- Consultant-led studies are expensive.
It’s expensive for consultants to conduct the study. Many studies cost $50,000 or more depending on their size and scope. For nonprofits looking to retain as much funding as possible, these expensive studies are anything but feasible.
- Collated and confidential responses leave gaps in information.
Consultant-led studies often don’t share essential information they learned from their interviews because it was shared in confidence. You may feel confused by the report because you won’t learn which donor said what or how much a specific donor indicated they might give. As a result, the reasons for a consultant’s recommendations often lack transparency.
For these reasons, we recommend you consider an alternative approach to the traditional feasibility study.
Try a Guided Feasibility Study Instead
At the Capital Campaign Toolkit, we recommend a Guided Feasibility Study. This allows your team to speak directly with donors while also having the hands-on guidance of an experienced campaign advisor. We believe an advisor-guided study is superior for the following reasons:
- You build relationships between your organization’s leaders and key donors prior to the campaign. This might even result in early gift commitments!
- You learn what your most important donors really think and can shape your plans accordingly.
- You save money. An expert advisor can build the confidence of your team to conduct the study at approximately half the cost of a consultant-led effort.
- You have the expert advice you need to do it properly. All materials, interviews, and recommendations are guided by experienced campaign advisors.
17 Capital Campaign Feasibility Study Questions to Kick-Start Your Research
Below are 17 questions consultants are likely to ask when they conduct a feasibility study interview.
This is a typical set of questions that begin with general inquiries about the organization and then move into questions about the campaign case and finally to whether and how the interviewee might participate and give.
Whether you hire a consultant or conduct a Guided Feasibility Study, you will send the interview prospects information about the organization and the campaign before the interviews.
If you are going to conduct the interviews yourself, you would adapt these questions to be more conversational in a way that reflects your existing relationship to the interview prospects. These questions will, however, give you a sense of the information you are looking for.
Let’s dive in.
Questions About Your Organization
- What are the organization’s strengths and weaknesses?
- What is the reputation of the organization in the community?
Questions About Campaign Leadership
- What do you think of the organization’s ED / CEO?
- What do you think of the organization’s board? Are they positioned to lead a major fundraising campaign? Why or why not?
Questions About Your Case for Support
- What do you think of the case for the campaign? Does it make a convincing case for expanding the organization?
- Do you personally believe in the project outlined in the case? What appeals to you most? Is anything not interesting?
- What questions or concerns do you have about the project?
Questions About the Campaign’s Feasibility
- In order to expand programs and services as outlined in the case for support, we will need to raise $XXX in the next 3 years. In your experience, do you think our organization could raise those kinds of funds?
- Here is our gift range chart, outlining the number and size gifts we would need to succeed. As shown, we would need a minimum of X gifts over $XXX. Do you think the community could support that effort?
- Do you think we could start in the next six months? Do you know of any reason we shouldn’t?
Questions About Leadership Roles and Donors
- Who do you think would be critical to get on board for this campaign to succeed? Who should we be thinking about for leadership roles in the campaign?
- Who else should we be speaking with about this campaign?
- What foundations, corporations, and individuals do you believe the top gifts will come from?
Questions About Participation and Commitment
- Among your philanthropic priorities, where is our organization?
- Do you see yourself making a gift to the campaign? Would you be willing to share what level?
- Would you be interested in volunteering for the campaign? In what capacity? For a specific campaign committee, or in another manner?
One Final Question
- What else should we consider before moving ahead with a campaign?
This question functions as a catch-all at the end of the interview. This is where you make sure the prospect has had a chance to air all of their ideas and concerns — and it might lead to interesting discussions that your team hadn’t considered before!
Analyzing the Feasibility Study Responses
The answers to these 17 questions will help you assess whether or not you can move forward with a capital campaign. We recommend analyzing your answers against the following questions:
- Looking back on the collective answers, were the responses more positive or negative?
- Are the participants willing to share information and names of others?
- Are they excited about your campaign plans? Did they find the case for support inspiring?
- Did they indicate that would be willing to consider giving at a leadership level and volunteer for the campaign?
If the answers were generally positive, you’re likely ready to move ahead.
However, if the answers were mixed or somewhat negative, you may have some work to do before launching a campaign.
Before you consider leading your own feasibility study interviews, check out how a Guided Feasibility Study works. You get all the benefits of building relationships with your donors, plus the support of an experienced campaign expert to guide you through the process, from start to finish. And, even more important, a Guided Feasibility Study conducted with expert guidance will give your board the confidence they need to accept the recommendations and move forward.
To learn more about conducting a successful capital campaign, explore the following additional resources:
- Capital Campaigns: The Ultimate Guide for Growing Nonprofits
- Capital Campaign Case for Support: Crafting a Complete Plan
- How to Create a Capital Campaign Brochure: Our Top 4 Tips