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Traditional fundraising wisdom suggests that when it comes to campaign feasibility studies, there’s only one way for you to go:

Hire an outside consultant to interview your best potential donors.

However, Rachel Spaulding, head of advancement at the Wheeler School in Providence, Rhode Island, would beg to differ.

Rather than use the traditional model, Rachel and her colleagues elected to conduct a “Guided Feasibility Study” in which they were guided by an expert from the Capital Campaign Toolkit. But no outside consultant conducted the interviews — instead, they spoke with the donors themselves.

A Guided Feasibility Study with In-House Advantages

Rachel, a colleague and two board members conducted the interviews — a significant shift from the traditional feasibility study model. They completed their Guided Feasibility Study in January 2022.

The results were stunning. They not only found strong support for a proposed three-year $32 million campaign for the independent nursery-12th grade school, but they forged a stronger relationship with their donors.

Rachel has become a huge fan of the new model. The study process became a “living, breathing, evolving” thing — it exceeded all expectations, putting to rest her original fears that breaking from the traditional model might not work out.

Full disclosure here:

Capital Campaign Toolkit pioneered the hybrid guided feasibility study plan The Wheeler School used. We’re pretty proud of it and would love it if you took a minute to check out the process for yourself. Details are right here:

Guided Feasibility Studies »

That said, you won’t find a stronger proponent of this approach than Rachel.

While it saved her organization money and time, it also brought her staff and board closer, allowed donors to freely speak their minds, and helped shape the campaign case and message — all while being able to lean on the guidance of an advisor.

“Yes, it was less expensive, but expense isn’t everything,” Rachel said. She researched and sought RFPs form a variety of capital campaign consultants, including others who offer a guided alternative. She reviewed each proposal closely and took advantage of a free consult with campaign expert and Toolkit Co-Founder, Andrea Kihlstedt.

“I had a gut feeling there was something to this. I was persuaded. Bottom line, if I’m ever in position to do another campaign, I won’t have to decide. I would only ever do it this way,” Rachel said.

How the Guided Feasibility Study Model Works

Here’s how the Guided Feasibility Study model works. Working with a Toolkit Advisor, you:

  1. Make sure you have a clear set of campaign objectives, a working goal for your campaign and a compelling case for support.
  2. Select the donors you want to speak with, then request and schedule interviews.
  3. Develop a discussion guide for your donor conversations, frame questions that draw honest responses, then learn and practice the essential skills for conducting open conversations.
  4. Capture the information in a useful format and review the results with your advisor.
  5. Analyze the material and prepare a detailed report for your board.

According to Rachel, the approach and outcome were so valuable that she was actually sorry when it ended.

“It was like a golden ticket to say to our donors:

Help us with this process. This is not a solicitation. We’re not asking for gifts. We want your opinion.

And we were completely honest.”

Some Donors Declined to Participate

A few donors declined to participate, and some that did chose to air a few complaints. Rachel and her team listened closely, recorded their responses and thanked them for their input. She never tried to solve the problem on the spot; rather she promised to come back to discuss the issue further.

Overall, Rachel was surprised so many donors agreed to talk.

She further explained, “We had very high acceptance rates from the people we asked to talk with us. Maybe 10 percent said no, some for health or time reasons. Only two or three weren’t interested.”

But Most Were Eager to Speak Directly with the Nonprofit

“In the end, we spoke with 41 people,” Rachel said. “We were surprised by how many people said, ‘I’m so glad to speak with you instead of a consultant.’ “

Prepared questions kept them on track and elicited clear, informative responses. She said the process and guidance is so clear and specific, she could see how a nonprofit with only one or two people to dedicate to a study could easily handle the task.

Which Type of Feasibility Study is Right for You?

So, how do you decide if a guided feasibility study or a different model is for you?

  • Educate yourself. The web offers endless links to information on feasibility studies. Read up on sites you trust.
  • Podcasts. Dozens and dozens of them are online.
  • Talk to colleagues. Get a first-hand review of their study process. Will it work for you?
  • Decide for yourself. Do you have a clear plan and a compelling case?
  • Identify top-level donors. Have you identified the donors most likely to make the top gifts to your campaign?
  • Get your leaders’ prerogative. Are your leaders (ED, DD and board chair) willing to talk to your top donors?

And if you’re still unsure, Capital Campaign Toolkit offers a free 45-minute strategy session. Decide for yourself if this is a good fit. We’re here to help!

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