From My Perspective

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.



Art or Science?

A friend once asked me if fundraising was an art or science.  I have always thought that it had a scientific component but that at base it was common sense raised to an art.  Well, the same friend sent me a great little book recently, “Show Your Work! 10 ways to share your creativity and get discovered”. In the note he included he wrote, “Read this and see if you get any ideas about the “art” in fundraising”.

First of all, the book is six inches square with terrific illustrations. The Chapter headings include: You Don’t Have To be A Genius, Think Process, Not Product, Tell Good Stories, and Learn To take A Punch.   As I was reading it I came across something we all need to think about:

“Every client presentation, every personal essay, every cover letter, every fundraising request –  they’re all pitches.  They’re stories with the ending chopped off.  A good pitch is set up in three acts: The first act is the past, the second act is the present, and the third act is the future.  The first act is where you have been – what you want, how you came to want it, and what you have done so far to get it. The second act is where you are now in your work and how you have worked hard and used up most of your resources. The third act is where you are going, and how exactly the person you’re pitching can help you get there.  Like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, this story shape effectively turns your listener into the hero who gets to decide how it ends.” 

We have all attended seminars on Major Gift calls where we are told that every call needs an “Opener” and a “Closer”.  The “Opener” is often a Board member or volunteer who knows the prospect well, can establish the climate of the visit, knows the Case Statement, and can speak passionately and motivate the prospect.  The “Closer” can ask for the gift using an exact number and, like the “Opener”, has been trained for every eventual question the prospect can ask.  Here is where the idea of the prospect has to be turned into the “Hero”.   While hesitating to disagree with Mr. Kleon, I think the better outcome is that the “Hero” becomes part of the future and becomes a partner in the important work ahead – work that changes lives.

Thinking through all your personal contacts in light of Mr. Kleon’s ideas can create great strategies for you.   I have always believed in three person call teams.  One for each act, better conversation flow, and, most importantly, a team approach that shows confidence, commitment, and when necessary, keeps the flow of the visit.


What is “Fundraising Fortnightly?”

These posts will be regular updates where I share my insights, trends and advice – for free – to help you with your fundraising efforts. I hope you enjoy them! If you have any questions, you can fill out the form below, and it will go straight to me. I promise to get back to you quickly.

– Walt Hansen