Feasibility Study or Planning Study – What is best for me?

When not-for-profits begin planning a Capital Campaigns they frequently consider a Feasibility Study.

Traditionally Feasibility Studies consist of a number of personal interviews aimed at testing a Case Statement for the Campaign, potential leadership and major gift prospects, and the levels of support that might be expected from the interviewees. Some not-for-profits also include attitudes about the organization’s Mission, leadership, and effectiveness. 

Over the course of time I have shifted from individual interviews to Focus Groups. The groups provide a great amount of give-and-take, good questions, and a dynamic not found in individual interviews. The groups must be carefully planned by interest, past associations with the organization, donors, and leadership.

Why do a Feasibility Study?

They help develop relationships with key stakeholders.

They provide a chance to meet friends and potential donors and learn the issues that may be on their minds, ask questions designed to help you finalize a Case Statement, and assess the interviewees’ willingness to be part of Campaign leadership and level of potential contributions.

They can help you learn first-hand the traditions your stakeholders connect with your organization and the value they place on these traditions.

They allow you to develop ideas for campaign strategies that will not require a learning curve should a Campaign be undertaken.

It is an opportunity to see the strengths and challenges of your fund raising infrastructure.

ABOVE ALL – Feasibility Studies are educational!!! They provide the leadership the opportunity to frame the questions to educated stakeholders. By suggesting options for the Case, asking questions about current versus longer-term goals, using language to clarify the Mission, and weaving in “success” stories, they are educational. The interviewees will educate you. Their responses will give you valuable insight, attitudes, criticism, and a real sense of how the Campaign might be better tailored to really generate interest. 

In some not-for-profits a Campaign is an absolute necessity and there may not be time or the necessity of a Feasibility Study. A Campaign must be undertake for a critical capital need, operational needs, or to fund a program that can be undertaken with matched support from a Foundation or other sponsor. Or a not-for-profit discovers in its internal process leading to a Campaign that they are getting “cold feet”. In this case a Feasibility Study may not be the right strategy.

What should we do?

A Planning Study! 

Unlike a Feasibility Study, a Planning Study is more internally focused. It attempts to see the strengths and challenges of your fundraising infrastructure. It focuses on the Board and Advisory Committees, leadership, staff, volunteers, and those served. Its goal is to determine if there is in place sufficient staff, internal operational processes, Prospects, and Board and internal leaders equipped to deal with a yearlong fund raising effort unlike any ever attempted.

Much like a Feasibility Study it is always best if this is an educational process. Learn, listen, change direction, feel secure, look how best to improve the weaknesses found, make internal staff changes and/or additions when necessary, and create a sense of stability for everyone involved.

The Planning Study can give you a chance to address complicated issues with your staff: “What happens to my annual fund during a Campaign?”; “Oh no, it will ruin the gala”;” How do we get our Foundation/Corporate donors to be involved”; “What if we fail?”

The Planning Study will also provide the Board with critical information that may lead to new members being recruited, a new committee structure, changes in by-laws, or a change in the not-for-profit’s leadership.

Like Feasibility Studies, a Planning Study should be conducted by an outside consultant. Yes, I am a consultant and this is not a business pitch. It is an attempt to get an outsider to bring a fresh perspective, advice, and someone to be objective.