A number of myths or misunderstandings exist regarding the subject and purpose of campaign feasibility studies. Any number of questions naturally emerge among non-profit board and staff members: “Why do we need to pay for a study when we know we’re going to launch a campaign anyway?” Or the more suspicious: “Yes, I know what a study is-it is a process by which we pay a consulting company a great deal of money to recommend that we hire them to run a campaign.” Although amusing, both responses highlight a lack of understanding as to the true nature, purpose, and process of a campaign feasibility and planning study.
Experienced professionals and volunteers know feasibility studies are an essential starting point for any major capital campaign. A study clarifies public perceptions, refines organizational objectives, and begins the critical task of building a network of potential donors, leaders and volunteers. It also helps you build a solid tactical plan to ensure you are successful.
Assumptions can be dangerous. There is a great need to hear the unbiased perception of others as it relates to your organization, mission, and campaign goal. However, you cannot expect, or try, to see everyone who might support your project. Instead, priority should be given to those people seen as the most influential and financially capable to your project’s success. Through interviews with board members, volunteers, and business and community leaders, your organization should be able to obtain general:
- Perceptions of the organization and the quality of service provided
- Responses to the vision and major objectives of the organization
- Inclination to financially support the organization’s objectives
- Willingness to participate in the campaign as a leader or volunteer
- Identification of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to the campaign’s success
REFINING ORGANIZATIONAL OBJECTIVES
Another critical component of the study is the feedback the organization will receive on its vision and plans. Insights and suggestions from the community’s top leaders will let the organization’s board know if their plans are too ambitious or too modest, what parts of the plan are the most compelling, what are people likely to support, and who are those people? A well-developed plan requires feedback from the community or constituency who will be served and from those who will be asked to provide funding. By incorporating feedback into your planning, you will be able to refine and articulate a vision for your organization that will be publicly recognized as compelling, urgent, and clearly conceived.
BUILDING A NETWORK OF POTENTIAL DONORS AND VOLUNTEERS
Once the climate for a capital campaign is assessed and feedback has been incorporated into a refined plan, one major task remains for the study director: identifying a probable network of potential donors and volunteers. Specifically, the study should identify:
- Potential campaign leaders and volunteers
- Potential and major donor leadership
- The most appropriate financial goal
- The best time to begin your campaign
- Competing campaigns (ongoing or in the planning stages) or developments
- Opportunities to build collaborative relationships with other organizations
- A network of volunteers
Unlike conventional times, whereby an organization may have years to cultivate potential donors and leaders, everything in a capital campaign happens quickly. In many cases, donor (and often leadership) prospects have little if any connection to the organization and have not been cultivated for the major gift request they are about to receive. A campaign feasibility & planning study offers multiple opportunities and benefits, including:
- Improving your odds of meeting with reluctant or hard-to-meet prospects by declaring your intention to gain their insights and suggestions only, rather than an official “ask.” Not only does this help in your planning, it also will help pave the way for any solicitation visit that might follow. This is another step in educating them and building ownership.
- Presenting, but not selling, the organization’s successes, vision, and objectives to the potential prospect in a neutral setting.
- Educating a potential donor and laying the foundation for a significant gift request and possibly a leadership role.
- Gauging the prospect’s level of interest in supporting the project financially and determining to what capacity they may be able to help the effort as a volunteer. Someone may be very wealthy and a community activist-but what are they likely to do for your organization?
- Inviting feedback and suggestions from the prospect. This will help to refine your case and objectives while allowing the prospect to take an active part (ownership) in the planning of the project and campaign.
All of these activities will help you cultivate the prospect’s interest and potential support while assessing their potential role in the campaign.
Remember that “capital campaign” is a simple label applied to a complex volunteer structure fueled by emotion and personal values and is designed to undertake a highly ambitious organizational challenge.
By its nature, the capital campaign is fragile and depends on the participation, good will, and profound generosity of its constituent leaders. It is not an undertaking to be considered lightly. There are no short cuts to raise the money you need. To ensure you and your organization enjoy the greatest level of campaign success possible, do your homework with a full campaign feasibility and planning study.