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The Feasibility Study

Updated: May 17

If you want money, ask for Advice. If you want advice, ask for Money.



 

From The Desk of Rolando D. Rodriguez


Lately, I’ve had many questions about the proper use and need for campaign feasibility studies. I’ll share a brief response to a complex question.

Do you always need a feasibility study? In a perfect world, yes, but not always. It all depends!  I will comment on that further later on.


What is a Feasibility Study


Nonprofit organizations contemplating a major fundraising campaign often—but not always—conduct a feasibility study. The study’s primary purpose is to assess the viability of the initiative before significant resources are invested. 


Purpose


Feasibility studies help organizations clarify and refine their goals, including fundraising targets, project scope, and timeline. Organizations can confirm their plans are realistic and achievable or learn enough to modify the goals or timeline.

  • Feasibility studies provide insights into donor perceptions, interests, and willingness to contribute.

  • Feasibility studies help identify potential obstacles, including economic conditions, competition, donor fatigue, and internal factors such as organizational capacity.

  • Feasibility studies assess the commitment of leadership and key stakeholders to champion the campaign and leverage their networks.

  • A study helps tailor fundraising strategies to align with donor preferences and expectations. This may include refining the case for support and outlining cultivation and solicitation plans.

  • Most important of all, involving stakeholders in the study fosters a sense of ownership and buy-in. Engaging donors, board members, staff, and volunteers in discussions about objectives and strategies builds consensus and support for the organization's efforts.

 


Managing the Study


The study is usually handled by an independent professional – preferably someone with knowledge of our community - who is introduced to board members, donors, and community leaders to secure confidential feedback. A DYI study is folly, as you will naturally have a “yes” bias. Check this bias at the door by having someone experienced get you real answers, some which you will assuredly not want to hear.


I once ran a study where participants almost universally stated “The CEO is capable, but irritating, every time I see (name), I run the other way”.  We needed to adapt our original approach  strategy!


 

Whom Do You Interview

  • Do you have access to major donors and leaders willing to participate?

  • Can you find critical participants who could identify the 20% who will bring in 80% of the money?

  • Can you identify a lead gift prospect or prospects?

  • Do you have leaders with time and influence?


Reality Testing

  • How sellable and convincing is the project itself?

  • Is your business plan credible? (or do you even have a business plan?)

  • Does the organization have proper staffing and infrastructure?

  • Do your donors respect and like the CEO, staff, and board?

  • What internal beliefs does the organization hold that may be disputed by others?

  • Is your proposed timeline reasonable?


External Factors

  • If construction is involved, does your organization understand the reality of building in South Florida?

  • What other regulatory issues will impact your program plans and budget?

  • Will you be able to sustain the effort, especially operationally?

 


Can You Do Without A Study?


An interesting question is when a feasibility study may delay progress and create needless expense and confusion.


What happens when you have already identified the goal, and it’s not negotiable? In such a case, what you are truly researching is who will support these goals and what obstacles stand in the way. It’s not “if”, but rather "who", “when” and “how”.


I once assisted an organization that had been planning an 8-figure facility for decades. Millions had been secured, dollar by dollar, and the land was committed but time-limited. They had a board of great insiders, but there was zero history of major giving or multi-year pledges. So, who exactly would have been included in a study? Random philanthropists?


If your organization has already undergone thorough analysis, planning, and organizational reflection, a formal feasibility study may not be necessary. In fact, it could potentially frustrate you, your board, and potential donors who have little engagement with the charity.


In the case above, we concluded that there were enough positives to proceed, although not nearly enough qualified prospects. The organization focused on methodically adding leadership, eventually obtaining six —and seven-figure gifts. There was nothing else to study and no other path to success.


Does that sound contradictory? Yes, it is. But it’s real life. Analyze the need for the analysis itself, proceed with the study when it will help, and adjust to reality when the circumstances require a different approach.


We should never forget that audacious goals are accomplished by passionate visionaries who up their game and not just by bookish facts. A study should be a tool towards success, not a wall to climb.


 


Launching a campaign without proper planning can strain relationships with donors, volunteers, and other key stakeholders. If the campaign falls short or encounters significant challenges, it will erode trust and confidence in the organization's leadership and fundraising capabilities. 


While there are instances where operating on momentum and passion is necessary, it's crucial to be aware of the potential pitfalls. One of the most common errors in campaigns is setting an overly optimistic timeline. A feasibility study, particularly one that includes an analysis of the environment beyond just donors and money, could be a valuable tool in avoiding such pitfalls.


If your initial hurdle is a lack of access to potential leaders and donors, then you've already identified the most significant obstacle in advance. You might choose to proceed regardless, understanding that your primary task is to fill a substantial leadership gap, which is a crucial step toward a successful campaign. 


In the end, always remember the biggest opportunity of any study: it's not about asking for money but also about asking for advice and feedback. Otherwise, be prepared to get a lot of advice, and very little money!

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