Taking a Leap of Faith – Why a Nonprofit Feasibility Study?

I remember my first experience hiring a consultant for the nonprofit that I was working with early in my fundraising career. We were going to go full blast into the very first capital campaign of the organization, and we basically pulled a fundraising goal out of the air. Wondering if this goal was even realistic, I expressed my concern to my executive director and board chair. Even though we knew our donors best (so we thought), had a clear vision why we needed the funds and did not feel completely comfortable with spending our precious money on a consultant, we collectively knew we needed to take this leap of faith and make the investment.

Long story short, we hired an excellent consultant (after checking many references), received a campaign framework to follow and had a successful campaign but with a lower, more realistic goal…. thanks to the feedback from the feasibility study. If we had proceeded without this valuable, independent insight and expertise, we would not have reached our goal.

So why hire a consultant to conduct your feasibility study?

Feasibility studies are key for analyzing whether your nonprofit is ready to take on a major campaign.

Nonprofit feasibility studies assess an organization's readiness for a capital campaign. Specifically, nonprofit feasibility studies capture perceptions from key stakeholders regarding your organization and your ability to begin and successfully finish a capital campaign.

By undertaking a feasibility study, the consultant aims to assess the viability of a potential campaign, provide a path to uncover opportunities and will optimize the use of your resources to fulfill your mission and reach the goal.

What does the process typically involve?

  • An objective assessment of the organization. A review of the organization’s mission, the campaign vision, staff capacity, board engagement, data systems, giving policies, donor patterns, audits, and strategic and development plans.
  • A series of confidential one-on-one interviews. The promise of anonymity allows your donors, board members and constituents to honestly share their opinions of your organization and their thoughts about a campaign. As we know, donors and the organization’s leaders do not always agree, but a feasibility study finds the common ground upon which to build a campaign. Additionally, people are more apt to tell an objective third party both the positive and negative aspects of your organization in a way they might not openly discuss with the executive director or even a board member they know well.
  • Broad-based surveys to the organization’s database. The best way to know what your constituents want is to ask! A survey encourages your donor base to respond with what they would support and what they think of a potential campaign.
  • A report with specific recommendations with a timeline and plan to meet the suggested goal. The information is only valuable if we use it to understand how to plan for the campaign. The study puts together the perfect framework and case for support, but it is up to the organization to execute the work and raise the money. The results from a feasibility study can tell your nonprofit if it is “ready” to raise money but it should also give you specific action steps you must take to improve your abilities and enhance your rate of success.

Some people assume that a feasibility study is nothing more than a permission slip for the nonprofit to raise money.

It is not a forgone conclusion that nonprofits can raise the money they need in a capital fundraising campaign. While there might be a need, this need is not always met with a strong enough case for support, effective leadership, or donor interest in raising money to make a campaign successful.

It is crucial for nonprofits to carefully plan and execute their feasibility studies, ensure a transparent and engaged process, and be open to critical feedback. Once you take that leap of faith, your vision can turn into reality.

I like to think of this quote from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett when contemplating a capital campaign and deciding to hire a feasibility study consultant. “At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done--then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.”

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