Preparing for a Campaign Feasibility and Planning Study

Close-up of a businessman taking notes for a campaign feasibility and planning study for Custom Development Solutions

Every year, more and more non-profit organizations are preparing to enter into capital campaigns to construct or update facilities, build endowments, supplement operations, and pursue other financial goals. The more successful of these organizations will hire consulting firms to conduct a campaign feasibility and planning study.

Identifying the best consulting firm for your organization is a critical decision. But there are many consulting firms out there, and their service proposals can vary widely. Here are some tips on how to thoroughly evaluate a firm’s proposal, projected costs, and services if you lack direct experience.

Anticipating a Study’s Outcomes

Before you know the right questions to ask a firm, you must first be clear on what you expect from a campaign feasibility and planning study. A well-conducted study should reveal key information from those in a position to influence the success of your capital campaign. The study should provide information and insights on how to strengthen your case for support, who the campaign leaders should be, who the prospective donors are, what is a realistic goal, and how long will it take to run a campaign. Other specific objectives of a campaign feasibility and planning study are:

  • Gauging the interviewee’s perception of your organization
  • Evaluating the interviewee’s response to the case for support, as well as their willingness to give and volunteer
  • Identifying the most influential campaign leadership prospects
  • Identifying the affluent donor prospects
  • Establishing a realistic financial goal and timeline for a campaign
  • Identifying special opportunities (collaborations or previously unknown funding sources) and potential obstacles (competing campaigns, discontent, etc.)
  • Assessing the general climate for a campaign
  • Cultivating the interviewee for a potential role in the campaign
  • Developing a preliminary campaign plan, fundraising timetable and organizational chart
  • Providing management with the study’s results in a formal written report that outlines the findings, evaluates those findings, and makes fundraising and development related recommendations

Evaluating Proposals For Service

With a firm grasp of what outcomes you expect from a campaign feasibility and planning study, you can now work backwards to determine how those goals will be met. Review each proposal to see how the consulting firm presents their methodology and the distinguishing characteristics of their study approach. After narrowing the proposals down to a short list, speak with representatives of the firm to learn more about their service, experience, and ability to relate to your organizational needs. Develop a list of interview questions. Your questions may include:

  • How many interviews would you conduct for our organization? Do they focus on 30 or 40 people closely involved with the organization, or will they expand the scope of their study to include additional people on the periphery?
  • What would be the composition of interviewees? What is the percentage balance between internal (trustees, staff) and external (community leaders, alumni, parents, etc.) participants?
  • How are the interviews conducted—by phone or in person? If both, what balance should we expect?
  • Could you describe the interview process?
  • Will there be a written final report? What about an interim report? How will you learn what has been discovered and the opinions of the study leader or team?
  • What will be in the final report? Will the firm allow you to review a representative sample report?
  • Who will conduct the study? Will it be the person presenting the proposal or someone else?
  • How long will the study last? Why is one particular firm’s study longer or shorter than others?
  • What will be the fee and expenses?
  • Do they offer periodic consulting, or full-time resident campaign direction?
  • How do they conduct a campaign, and how much will that cost?

Things to Remember

  • Seek a balance between internal and external interviewee participants. If 75% of the interviewees are internal participants, will you have reliable information about what people outside the organization are thinking?
  • There is no substitute for face-to-face meetings when discussing important issues—particularly regarding giving and raising significant sums of money.
  • Find out how each firm logistically approaches the interview process (letters, phone calls, etc.) and how each interview is conducted.
  • If the person conducting the study is not the same person presenting the proposal, ask to meet them before signing a contract to ensure they have your confidence and can carry on the relationship between the firm and your organization.
  • Consider each firm in relation to specific services provided. Discern between the varying levels of service and price to gain a sense of relative pricing. Ask why they are less or more expensive than their peers. The answer should be revealing as to what they do, how they do it, and what you will learn.
  • Both the study and campaign will take longer with part-time or periodic consulting, and what seems like a lower monthly fee can end up costing more time and money in the long run.
  • When selecting fundraising counsel for the study, you are really choosing your partner for the capital campaign to follow—so choose wisely. 

Next Steps

Begin sorting each firm in regard to specific services offered, experience, price, and other considerations important to you. One of the biggest distinctions is the method of service delivery. Are they onsite full-time, or do they only show up periodically, leaving you with a long list of things to do? What seems like a lower monthly fee, may actually represent a vastly higher hourly or daily fee, when you determine one firm is there full-time, while the other firm comes in only a few days per month.

Remember that price disparities may reflect significant differences in services offered. Learn what the differences are and why they are important. A well-conceived and executed study will have a significant impact on the success of your campaign. Don’t cut corners—millions of dollars are at stake! Find the firms that provide the best service, and after narrowing your search to two firms, contact their references and ask very direct questions about their performance, their success, and whether they would be the first choice if that client were to do another campaign. Having your suspicions confirmed by this firm’s satisfied clients, you are in the best possible position to establish a working partnership to help you raise the millions you seek and deserve. 

For more intensive help with your major gift fundraising, strategic planning, or in preparing for a capital campaign, contact CDS.


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