Conducting A Planning and Feasibility Study: A Guide
No matter how long you’ve been in the nonprofit fundraising space, you likely have some level of familiarity with pre-campaign studies. When you’re considering your next big project or capital campaign, you’ll first need to perform a fundraising planning and feasibility study to make sure that this is a viable project for your nonprofit to undertake. This study will help you determine if your current plan will allow you to get the results you want.
But, before your next fundraising planning and feasibility study can begin, you must know how to prepare. This guide will make sure you have all the information you need to successfully conduct a fundraising planning and feasibility study. Here’s what to expect:
- 1. What Is a Fundraising Planning and Feasibility Study?
- 2. The Five Aspects of a Fundraising Planning and Feasibility Study
- 1. Hire a consultant to lead your fundraising planning and feasibility study
- 2. Analyze your nonprofit’s fundraising history
- 3. Have your consultant interview organizational stakeholders
- 4. Go over the findings of your planning and feasibility study
- 5. Launch your campaign or take the necessary “next steps”
Fundraising planning and feasibility studies are most helpful when they’re approached as an aspect of strategic planning. Not only can these studies help your nonprofit determine whether or not your desired campaign is viable, but they can also help you hone your fundraising strategy.
If you’re ready to take the next step towards starting a capital campaign or other large project, let’s get started!
What Is a Fundraising Planning and Feasibility Study?
A fundraising planning and feasibility study helps your nonprofit determine if a capital campaign or other large project is feasible, and if so, how best to execute it. The end goal is to plan the campaign and get it started.
In a planning and feasibility study, a third-party representative (usually a fundraising firm) interviews important stakeholders in your organization and community. These interviews are meant to gauge stakeholders’ perceptions of your nonprofit and their support for the campaign or project you’re proposing.
This will help you determine not only whether the campaign should proceed in the first place, but also give you the information you need to raise as much as possible. A planning and feasibility study will help you craft an effective fundraising strategy that is directly tailored to your most important and supportive donors.
The 5 Aspects of a Fundraising Planning and Feasibility Study
1. Hire a consultant firm to lead your planning and feasibility study
The key to conducting an informative fundraising planning and feasibility study? Hiring the right nonprofit consultant firm to get the job done.
While some organizations may be tempted to keep the study in-house, the expertise and outsider perspective of a consulting firm is a crucial component of a successful fundraising planning and feasibility study. Because nonprofit consultant firms aren’t internal members of your organization, individuals are more likely to provide honest feedback on your campaign during the interview phase of the study.
Similarly, since consultants have a more diverse background from working with a variety of nonprofit organizations, they’ll be more equipped to identify potential fundraising roadblocks and help your team sidestep unforeseen strategic challenges.
Throughout your campaign’s study, a nonprofit consultant can help your team:
- Conduct background research to better understand your organization.
- Screen your database for giving prospects.
- Conduct interviews with key stakeholders to assess campaign support.
- Compile study findings and help you understand the results.
- Determine “next steps” to accomplish before your campaign can begin.
Great nonprofit consultant firms will have experience conducting planning and feasibility studies, a history of working with organizations in your sector, an appreciation for your regional fundraising culture. They’ll also be sure to maintain an open dialogue with your executives and board.
2. Analyze your nonprofit’s fundraising history.
The next essential step in preparing for your nonprofit’s fundraising planning and feasibility study is working with your consultant to compile and analyze historical data on your organization.
During this stage, your consultant will attempt to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of your nonprofit and will begin to build a foundation upon which they’ll assess the attainability of your fundraising campaign’s goals. They’ll accomplish this by compiling:
- A history of your organization
- A timeline of your past fundraising campaigns
- An analysis of your past fundraising achievements
- A review of fundraising success stories within your organization’s sector
- An initial overview of your proposed fundraising goal, timeline, and other campaign benchmarks
After compiling this information, your nonprofit consultant will develop a document that you will use throughout the rest of your planning and feasibility study as a way to facilitate the pre-assessment of your campaign.
During the strategic planning period of your fundraising campaign, your consultant may also use this document to produce your campaign’s official case statement and related fundraising collateral. This case statement will be used to inform the public of your fundraising campaign, outline why your cause is worthy of your prospects’ support, and explain the specific fundraising needs of your organization. Your case statement should include:
- Your nonprofit’s mission and goals
- Why the campaign is needed and what benefits it will provide
- Projected costs and timelines
- Reasons why your key supporters should back the project
Once you’ve written your case statement, you should send it to the candidates you choose for the interview phase of your planning and feasibility study. Your case statement will help inform them about your campaign so that they are prepared during the interview process.
3. Have your consultant interview organizational stakeholders.
After carefully preparing with your nonprofit consulting firm, your fundraising planning and feasibility study can officially commence by conducting your stakeholder interviews.
When considering candidates to interview, think about people who have actively contributed to your organization and are reliable supporters.
To put it simply, candidates should have a genuine connection to your specific cause and organization. You should consider those who are incredibly supportive of your nonprofit’s initiatives and those who may be more critical; both can provide valuable insight.
For example, you might consider these key figures:
- Current and former board members
- Current or former major gift donors
- Planned gift or legacy donors
- Frequent volunteers
- Prospective donors
- Community stakeholders (community foundations, trust offices, etc.)
- Business owners and vendors
- Recipients of your services (grateful patients, alumni, parents, etc.)
At this time, your consultant will ask interviewees exploratory questions related to their perception of the attainability of your nonprofit’s fundraising campaign plan, as well as what kind of role they anticipate they’ll play during your campaign.
Some example questions a consultant might ask during stakeholder interviews include:
- What is your history with this nonprofit organization?
- What relationships do you have with comparable organizations?
- How does the work of this nonprofit influence your day-to-day life?
- Do you perceive the fundraising goal as attainable?
- Is the proposed project that this campaign is designed to finance necessary?
- Do you feel the fundraising goal is attainable, but that the money should be spent on different projects?
- Are you inspired to get involved with this campaign in an official volunteer capacity?
- Would you be willing to network to connect the organization with giving prospects?
- Would you make a gift to the campaign?
The individuals that your consultant interviews during the fundraising planning and feasibility study phase can offer key insight into developing your capital campaign collateral, including your capital campaign’s case statement.
4. Go over the findings of your fundraising planning and feasibility study.
While most nonprofit organizations are quite familiar with the role of fundraising planning and feasibility studies in the campaign planning process, organizations sometimes fail to leverage their results into actual strategy improvements.
It can be challenging for nonprofits to accept the assessment of their consultant or face the fact that their organization isn’t ready for the campaign they envision.
However, don’t consider the study process to be over once the interviews have ended. In fact, the final phases of your nonprofit’s fundraising planning and feasibility study are the most important ones of all.
Review feedback you’ve received from stakeholders, the insight offered from individuals on your insider committee, and the recommendations of your fundraising consultant firm.
At this time, your consultant will either recommend that you go forward with the campaign in line with your proposed timeline and goals or send your team to do more preparatory work; engaging and cultivating prospects, for example. No matter what conclusions your consultant reaches, it’s important that your nonprofit actually heed their advice. Half-baked fundraising plans are a recipe for failure, and if your nonprofit invests money in a campaign that isn’t set up for success, the repercussions can be detrimental to your organization in the long term.
5. Launch your campaign or take the necessary “next steps.”
It’s possible that at the end of a nonprofit planning feasibility study, your consultant will recommend that your organization immediately move forward with its fundraising plan.
Sometimes, however, consultants will have some recommendations for improvements and will suggest that your organization take some time to get better prepared for the campaign.
In the best-case scenarios, these suggestions might include simply identifying more prospects, adjusting your fundraising goal, or modifying the campaign timeline. Based on the feedback received, consultants may prescribe next steps that could take your team months or even years to accomplish.
More substantial strategic recommendations may include:
- Taking time to build stronger relationships with prospects or to identify additional contributors for major gifts.
- Refocusing the project the proposed campaign is intended to fund.
- Conducting a smaller-scale fundraising campaign to build fundraising experience.
- Realigning staff internally to become better equipped to take on the campaign.
- Bringing on new board members to boost the networking possibilities of your nonprofit.
Remember, your fundraising consultant isn’t just there to deliver the data — they are there to ensure that your nonprofit takes the best course of action for your organization. Your consultant can offer your organization unique insight into how to prepare for the campaign you envision, even if that means heading back to the drawing board.
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- Capital Campaigns 101: The Fundraising Strategies and Nonprofit Tech Carnival: Ready to start planning a capital campaign? Learn everything you need to know to get started.