A couple of weeks ago at the Association of Fundraising Professionals conference in Rhode Island, I attended a compatriot consultant’s presentation “The Non-Negotiable Feasibility Study.” I had worked on successful campaigns with this consultant in the past and I was honored when he invited me to contribute during the Q&A period.
One of the questions was raised by a woman who was fundraising for an educational cause. Her school was considering a structural redesign and expansion in their fundraising. They had an endowment they wanted to establish, some significant debt to relieve, and an annual fund to expand. The one thing they weren’t considering at this moment was a bricks-and-mortar capital campaign. When she asked if a Feasibility Study would be right for her organization, given the title of the presentation, I’m sure you can imagine my surprise when the presenter answered “no.”
As a leader of a nonprofit, you are called upon to provide clear strategies that will lead to fundraising success and therefore help your cause achieve its mission. Your expertise and fundraising experience provides a foundation upon which your strategies are built.
But whether you are an Executive Director, Board President, staff or committee member, volunteer, or even consultant, in order to offer the best recommendations and make the best decisions, you need more information. You’re going to mitigate the risk of sending your cause off in the wrong direction by gathering data, analyzing the information, and then building your strategy.
A Feasibility Study by any other name…
…smells as sweet and produces the same benefits. The name “Feasibility Study” is big and scary. It suggests ultimate adjudication on the worth of a cause. But really, a “Feasibility Study” is as big of a deal as the project/program/campaign/fundraising effort you are undertaking. You can get the same benefits of the “Feasibility Study” by doing screening interviews, surveys, conducting focus groups, or even just asking for advice and insight. Think of it as a “micro” study if you have a “micro” project.
Get the Benefit
The key to getting the benefit is going outside your cause’s “zone,” its home base, its core supporters, and inviting those who are less familiar with your organization to participate and influence the outcome of your fundraising.
This is such an important ingredient of fundraising success that we’ve included an entire module in Ask Masters that gives you a range of “do it yourself” feasibility study processes. You can find the module, “Make the Right Connection,” as a part of the Ask Masters Masters Series and Major League Major Gifts collections.
A Micro Feasibility Study
An organization I worked with was trying to figure out who would be a good candidate to chair the next annual fundraising gala. The committee of previous chairs were a little worried; the event had been very successful the previous year and they were worried that it would be difficult act to follow. Finding the right chair would not only establish how lavish the theme and fun the event, but also make the difference in the amount of the funds raised for the cause.
A quick brainstorm session with the Executive Director turned up an unusual suspect, who was fairly new to the community and recently involved on the fringes of the organization. We pitched the idea around to a couple of the event’s previous chairs to gauge the committee’s thoughts on the potential candidate.
Then we went outside our “zone.” I called the prospective chair’s husband. I introduced myself and shared that I was working with my cause who had an idea on which we needed his opinion. We set a time to get together. Over coffee, I shared information about the upcoming event and why we thought his wife might be a terrific chair for the upcoming year. After this brief educational expose, I asked what he thought.
He appreciated being taken into consideration and entrusted with “confidential” information about the strategies the organization was considering. It turned out that he thought his wife would be a good match for the event. He then shared several insights regarding other projects his wife was working on and some very helpful suggestions on the timing and phrasing of our invitation to take up the chair position.
I took this information back to my cause and used the insights to build our recruitment strategy. We invited our prospect to chair the event. She accepted and went on to lead the committee to create a fabulous gala that continued and surpassed the momentum of the event from the previous year. A good time was had by all.
Pointing the Way to Success – Large and Small
I had a great time during the Q&A session following my compatriot’s presentation rebutting the answer that a “Feasibility Study” was not the recommended approach for the organization with no capital campaign, but many fundraising challenges.
Whether you have a “big deal” fundraising project like a capital campaign, or a combination of many fundraising initiatives all rolled together, or a “micro” fundraising strategy question; a Feasibility Study will help you find the fastest way to achieve success. Regardless of what form your Study takes or what you call it, the complexity of your research process will be in proportion to the size of the fundraising challenge that lies between you and success.
It all comes down to this: If fundraising success is your goal, then a Feasibility Study, in some form under some name, truly is Non-Negotiable.
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Just highlights the critical importance of due diligence and feasibility studies to ensure that you have a better guarantee of success all round - win/win!
Thanks for the article - makes me realize that doing a feasibility study is just common sense for success.
Having survived many large fundraising goals, I always recall asking, "Has a feasibility study been done?" Then the answer always started with "Well...." I never liked the answer. This topic is worth repeating over and over. I discussed a great book called "Repeatability" (http://bit.ly/13BeIQ0) with a group of consultants this week and one of the core principles was "closed loop learning," which quickly brought us to the topic of evaluation. I think DODs and EDs can help minimize the demand of the feasibility study process by leveraging what they learn in their evaluations as well. Carry on the great work you do, Heidi!
Thanks Denise! You are spot on - Leveraging your investment in other procedures (like evaluation) really helps cut down on the overwhelm and make things more manageable. I too, ask early on what's been done in the study department. My favorite response was "We don't need no stinkin' feasibility study! Who cares if it's feasible or not - it's what we HAVE to do!" A little digging turned up that this organization had incorporated a constant solicitation of feedback into their everyday processes. They were actually conducting some kind of study activity daily but just hadn't thought of it that way.
Thanks, Heidi, for the great reminder. Call it what you want.. smart planning requires some type of (mini or not so mini) feasibility study.
This is a great share on how information should be gathered before making major decisions related to fundraising. Thanks for sharing Heidi!