Is your nonprofit conducting a capital campaign? Perhaps you’re leveraging an anniversary for major gift fundraising. Or maybe you’d like to grow your endowment.
In any of these instances, it’s common for nonprofits to conduct a feasibility study to determine if the campaign is possible and how it would best be accomplished. To do so, a third-party representative (usually a fundraising consultant) interviews important organizational and community figures to gain a deeper understanding into how they perceive the nonprofit and whether they’d be willing to support the project.
Feasibility studies can be incredibly valuable to organizations who take the time to conduct them strategically. However, there are common mistakes that nonprofits tend to make that can jeopardize the value of the study.
Specifically, many nonprofits make these mistakes:
1. Proceeding without board support
2. Rushing through the feasibility study
3. Conducting the feasibility study in-house
4. Interviewing the wrong people
5. Disregarding the feasibility study’s results
6. Skipping the feasibility study altogether
1. Proceeding without board support
Your feasibility study will determine whether or not your campaign is possible and valuable for your organization. So, it may seem like you should get the study’s results before proposing the project to your board.
After all, you want to show that the project is advisable when you present it so that you’re more likely to gain support.
However, keeping your board in the dark about your project can have serious negative ramifications.
You need board support on the front-end of your project because:
- Your board will need to approve funding for the consultant who conducts the study.
- Seeking board support retroactively could put your campaign in jeopardy if board members decide they don’t want to support it.
- Board members are valuable candidates for interviews because they can offer first-hand insight into your organization.
As such, it would be a mistake to proceed without board support.
Keep your board in the loop about your project from the beginning. Make sure they know about and approve of your feasibility study before you opt to conduct one.
And, once you have their approval, keep them updated!
Once the study is over, you’ll need to present a report of the findings to your board so that they can make an informed decision about funding the campaign.
As such, their feedback during the study can be vital in gaining their support later on; show that you’ve taken their thoughts seriously by addressing any questions or concerns that board members have when you present your report.
The takeaway: Proceeding without board support is a great way to alienate board members from your proposed project. Since their support is integral to the success of your campaign, gain their approval for your feasibility study on the front-end so that each member has access to the most relevant and important information before they decide the project’s funding.
2. Rushing through the nonprofit feasibility study
You may think of a feasibility study as the first stepping stone in your campaign or project. As such, it’s only natural to want to rush through it. The sooner you can finish the study, the sooner you can get started on your actual project!
The problem with this approach is that it undermines some of the most important benefits of a feasibility study.
A feasibility study isn’t just about results; it’s an opportunity to further cultivate and deepen relationships with donors and leaders in your community.
Allot 3-4 months in your pre-campaign planning for your feasibility study to take place. During this time period, you want to maximize the opportunities that your study will provide.
For example, you should:
- Send personalized invitations to stakeholders asking them to participate in interviews. Treat this as a cultivation opportunity and emphasize how much you value their opinions.
- Develop a strong case for support that can be tested during the feasibility study. This case for support can then be applied to your future fundraising strategies.
- Note important themes that arise during the interviews, and use what you learn to better communicate with your donors.
In other words, don’t rush through your feasibility study! Take the time to prepare the materials that you want to test with focused groups of stakeholders.
Then, take time to truly listen to what these candidates have to say. Many will be excited and eager to take part in your study. You can use their excitement to your advantage by planting early seeds for support and developing more in-depth donor and contributor profiles based on what your interviewees have to say.
The takeaway: Your feasibility study is an opportunity to cultivate donor and community relationships and strengthen your overall fundraising and marketing strategies. Take the time to ensure the right materials are receiving feedback and that you’re getting to know your donors in this personal setting.
3. Conducting the nonprofit feasibility study in-house
Since a fundraising feasibility study is all about testing the tides of your nonprofit, it seems to make sense that an in-house team would be adept for the project.
After all, your in-house team knows your organization inside and out. They have access to all of your constituent data, and they know your donors personally.
However, conducting a feasibility study in-house can lead to a conflict of interest and inaccurate results. After all, if an in-house party is invested in seeing the project through, they may be not be able to approach the study objectively or present the most accurate findings.
Most nonprofits hire a fundraising consultant to serve as a third-party representative. The consultant will conduct interviews during the study and help the nonprofit use the results to craft a fundraising strategy.
Additionally, the consultant may work with a nonprofit’s fundraising software providers or web design firm to devise a campaign plan. In other words, the consultant will act as the central party for the study and will help build the groundwork for your campaign.
There are many reasons that a fundraising consultant is more adept for this role than an in-house team.
Primarily, it comes down to these key reasons:
- A fundraising consultant is more likely to be unbiased. Since a consultant has no stake in your organization, they’re more likely to approach a feasibility study objectively. They’ll be cautious of loaded questions and attentive to interviewees’ reservations and accolades alike.
- A fundraising consultant is experienced in conducting feasibility studies. A consultant has the expertise to ask the right questions and elicit the most comprehensive answers from interviewees.
- A fundraising consultant can present more accurate results. A consultant will be highly invested in identifying themes that occur across interviews. An in-house interviewer may inadvertently gloss over problems or even miss out on golden opportunities simply because they’re so deeply immersed in their vision for the project.
- A fundraising consultant can help a nonprofit interpret results in a productive way. A fresh pair of eyes can be invaluable when it comes to understanding the study’s results. No matter what the results say, a consultant can help a nonprofit grow by developing strategies to deal with infrastructural issues and capitalize on organizational strengths.
A fundraising consultant is a key figure in conducting a feasibility study, so it’s important that your nonprofit takes the time to identify someone who’s right for your organization.
The takeaway: A fundraising consultant is an objective third-party who’s best equipped to conduct a feasibility study without conflicts of interest. Even the most well-meaning in-house interviewer can accidentally skew the results of a study because they’re invested in the project and may know interviewees personally.
4. Interviewing the wrong people
When it comes to selecting your interviewees, the choices may seem obvious.
However, nonprofits often fall into a trap of selecting people who can’t provide the best information. Since feasibility studies reach out to not just organizational leaders, but leaders in the community as well, it can be easy to select people who “talk the talk,” but don’t “walk the walk,” so to speak.
Every community has highly recognizable figures, but nonprofits must be cautious of people who:
- Are spread thin across many community programs
- Pledge support without following up with real action
- Publicly campaign for other nonprofits or causes that share similarities with your organization
- Have never directly contributed to your cause
The best way to make the most of your interviews is to select people who are actively engaged in your nonprofit.
These supporters should have demonstrated their dedication through their actions. Whether that means they’ve given a high-impact donation or they’ve organized a community event for your cause, the point is to seek out people who are likely to support your campaign once it launches officially.
Remember how we discussed that a feasibility study is a tool for cultivation? Well, you can’t cultivate a relationship that doesn’t exist. By choosing your most impactful supporters as interviewees, you’ll gain the most helpful insight and deepen the relationships that really matter.
Look to your nonprofit’s major donors and members — key groups of involved supporters — as well as volunteers in leadership positions and board members. A good mixture of personalities can give you a more holistic picture of the type of support you’ll receive, so reach out to optimists and skeptics alike!
The takeaway: Avoid interviewing figures who haven’t demonstrated their support in tangible ways. Your most valuable supporters, donors, and community leaders can offer the insight you need — and the opportunity to cultivate deeper relationships with them.
5. Disregarding the nonprofit feasibility study’s results
If your fundraising feasibility study results aren’t what you expected, then you may feel inclined to disregard them.
Most commonly, this occurs when a nonprofit receives negative results that advise against proceeding with the project. Nonprofits who’ve already invested time and energy into the feasibility study may feel that they’ve wasted their efforts if the project doesn’t continue.
However, proceeding with an ill-advised campaign can have serious consequences that largely trump any lost time or effort (which we’ll address in a moment).
Large campaigns are generally public affairs. The risk of hosting an unsuccessful campaign could result in a loss of trust between your nonprofit and the larger community.
Think about it from the perspective of your donors — they want to ensure that their gifts are going to causes they care about. If your organization can’t deliver on your campaign goals, it may call into question how donors’ gifts are being managed.
A feasibility study, no matter the results, is a chance for your nonprofit to grow. It’s important to take your results into serious consideration before making any campaign decisions, even if the results are overwhelmingly positive.
Whatever you learn from your key stakeholders can be used to strengthen your organization. As long as you maintain an open mind, your feasibility study will ultimately improve your nonprofit.
As such, it’s a mischaracterization to describe a negative feasibility study as a waste of time or energy. These studies are designed to help you, and whatever the results, you can use them to your advantage.
The takeaway: The risk of conducting a large fundraising campaign that isn’t feasible far outweighs the lost time and effort of conducting a feasibility study. In fact, your study’s results can offer incredible insights that can strengthen your organization and help you grow, no matter what the results may be.
6. Skipping the nonprofit feasibility study altogether
Many nonprofits argue that a feasibility study isn’t a necessary part of a capital campaign or large fundraising effort.
There are actually some circumstances where this might be true. If your nonprofit is a large organization that has conducted several successful back-to-back campaigns, you probably don’t need to conduct a feasibility study.
However, if this is not the case, then you very likely will need a fundraising feasibility study to determine whether the campaign is in your nonprofit’s best interests.
A feasibility study serves the purpose of determining not just whether a campaign is possible, but how it will be accomplished.
Plus, the feedback you receive during interviews can help you strengthen your organization and fundraising strategy based on what your most influential stakeholders have to say.
We’ve discussed some of the benefits of a feasibility study throughout this guide, but let’s recap. A nonprofit feasibility study can be used to:
- Cultivate deeper relationships with supporters
- Assess weaknesses in your organization’s infrastructure
- Capitalize on your nonprofit’s strengths
- Develop your case for support
- Improve your fundraising strategy
- Determine the best possible route to accomplish your campaign goal
- Figure out the logistics of your campaign, including your fundraising goal and timeline
- Build your leadership team
- Excite donor prospects before the campaign launches
As such, a feasibility study can be a huge asset to your nonprofit if you’re prepared to take advantage of all it has to offer.
Ultimately, it will increase your chances of conducting a successful campaign and help you build a stronger foundation for your future fundraising efforts.
The takeaway: Nonprofits should use feasibility studies as an essential aspect of pre-campaign planning. These studies can help you map out your campaign strategy and get your most influential supporters on board, increasing your chances of success.
Has your nonprofit made these feasibility study mistakes? Fear not — with our fixes, you can strengthen your campaigns going forward and maximize your results.
- Membership Programs. Your feasibility study is a chance to cultivate deeper relationships with your one of you most invested groups of donors: your members! Learn more about managing your members and using a feasibility study as an engagement tool.
- Nonprofit CRM Software. Depending on what you learn from your feasibility study interviews, you’ll need to update your donor data to reflect any developments accordingly. Learn more about the CRM software that can support your feasibility study efforts!
- Top Fundraising Consultants. To conduct a feasibility study, you’ll need to find a fundraising consultant who can get the job done. Check out this curated list of the top fundraising consultants who have the necessary skills and expertise.