“By failing to prepare, you are planning to fail”
Planning is an important aspect of any nonprofit staff member’s daily workflow. Without an effective plan in place, as Benjamin Franklin stated frankly, you’re preparing for failure.
As you start considering larger campaigns and projects, planning for success becomes increasingly more important. Nonprofits preparing for a major campaign likely hear the advice over and over again to conduct a feasibility study for planning purposes.
What is a nonprofit feasibility study?
Nonprofit feasibility studies are designed to assess an organization’s readiness for a large project such as a capital campaign.
However, according to Aly Sterling Philanthropy’s guide on nonprofit feasibility studies, that’s not all they do. Feasibility studies, when done correctly, can also help you build stronger relationships with your most valuable donors.
That’s why, in this article, we will discuss the strategies your nonprofit can use to maximize your feasibility study. When you take the time to plan something so thoroughly, you should be excited to see the results and make the most of the planning process.
As your nonprofit prepares for your feasibility study, take these suggestions to heart:
- Look for an outside opinion.
- Ask your stakeholders the right questions.
- Make sure the best resources are available.
- Leverage your study to write your case for support.
- Carefully determine the next best steps.
Let’s take Benjamin Franklin’s advice and plan to succeed with these top strategies!
1. Look for an outside opinion.
One of the biggest mistakes nonprofits can make is to conduct their feasibility study without the help of an outside expert. Nonprofits who fall into this trap of trying to save a buck by conducting their study in-house may unintentionally risk inaccurate results.
The best practice for your next feasibility study is to hire a fundraising consultant to help guide you through the process.
Fundraising consultants have a leg up on in-house studies because:
- They have a reservoir of experience to approach the study strategically. Consultants can rely on their expertise to help your nonprofit identify themes, target problems and provide suggestions throughout the study.
- Consultants provide an unbiased contact for interviews. Interviewees are much more likely to be straightforward and candid with someone who doesn’t have strong connections to the nonprofit. They can safely express doubts or negative feedback without the risk of hurting anyone’s feelings.
- Consultants can provide an unbiased report of study results. Sometimes it’s difficult for us to see our own flaws, and it can be just as difficult for a nonprofit professional to see the flaws in a plan or in their organization. A consultant provides a fresh pair of eyes to ensure unbiased study results.
If your nonprofit is planning a capital campaign, a faulty feasibility study can lead to a failed campaign. Failed capital campaigns can be devastating to nonprofits. If you’re considering launching a feasibility study for a capital campaign, click here to read more about hiring a consultant who specializes in these large-scale campaigns.
2. Ask your stakeholders the right questions.
One of the steps you’ll take during the feasibility study is interviewing your key stakeholders to garner interest in the proposed project. These stakeholders will be the supporters who are highly engaged and invested in the success of your nonprofit.
With the help of your consultant, start looking through your nonprofit’s donor database for supporters who have shown deep roots of commitment to your nonprofit.
These supporters may include groups of people such as:
- Nonprofit board members
- Major gift donors
- Community stakeholders
- Business owners and past sponsors
When you approach these important supporters, make sure that you personalize the conversation as much as possible by researching relevant donor data beforehand. DonorSearch’s guide to donor analytics will help you decide which information is most important to pull for these conversations.
Once you’ve started a conversation with these supporters, your goal is to gather their perspective about the organization and proposed project. By doing this, you should also aim to excite them about the project itself so that they’ll be more willing to get involved with the campaign.
While your consultant should take the lead in holding conversations with your stakeholders, work with them to carefully craft questions that will help you learn more about the:
- Reputation of your organization
- Strength of your fundraising program
- Perceived relevance of the project
- Sustainability of the project
- Fundraising goals
- Key campaign leadership positions
The right questions will help your nonprofit better gather data for the feasibility study, resulting in more accurate and effective results.
3. Make sure the best resources are available.
When you embark on the adventure of a new campaign or a major project, you need to ensure your technology solutions will help you reach your goals without creating additional work for your team.
During your feasibility study, your consultant will help you decide if your nonprofit has the tools it needs to market your campaign and collect necessary donations from your supporters.
When you launch a large-scale fundraising campaign such as a capital campaign, your nonprofit will likely have a quiet and a public phase, both of which require different forms of nonprofit tech.
- Quiet phase: During your quiet phase, your nonprofit will be reaching out to your major gift prospects and study stakeholders for the largest gifts for the campaign.
- Public phase: This is the phase during which you’ll reach out to the lower-level supporters to give to your campaign with online fundraising software, peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns and other methods. You’ll also need direct mail software to reach these individuals.
During both of these phases, you’ll need access to a robust donor database platform. This platform can help you track major gift cultivation as well as donation information about all of your supporters.
If your nonprofit is using a small-scale or free fundraising solution, your consultant may flag this as a weakness in your fundraising strategy during the feasibility study.
4. Write your case for support and leverage your study
In order to ask stakeholders for perspective on your organization and project, your nonprofit will need to provide information about both prior to the study. This is most often done in the form of a simple case for support.
Your nonprofit’s case for support should explain why your donors and stakeholders should support your mission and project. Generally, your case for support will accomplish three distinct goals: outlining your mission, sharing your local impact and communicating the need for fundraising dollars. This includes an overview of the proposed project.
When you outline the main points of your mission, make sure you tell the story of your nonprofit. Share the organization’s values and define your services. Use client stories and examples of your successes to illustrate how your programs work and make a difference.
Similarly, your organization’s record of impact and success is important to donors. Tell them how many people you reach and how your programs affect your community. Make it personal.
Finally, provide a compelling overview of why your organization needs to pursue this project. What are the challenges to your mission: Are you running out of room? Have a waiting list? Is there documented unmet demand for your services? Outline your proposed project and describe how it will solve the problems. Include a project budget and details, especially if you’re looking at a capital project.
If you decide to move forward with a campaign, use feedback from the feasibility study to update and adjust your case.
5. Carefully determine your next steps.
After the feasibility study is concluded, you’ll walk through the results with your fundraising consultant. Whether or not the feasibility study indicates you’re ready to move forward with a major campaign, it’s important that you accept the results provided.
If the study indicates that you are not yet ready to conduct a campaign, use the results to drive improvements to your current strategies.
For instance, if your nonprofit could benefit from a stronger recognition in the community, try reaching out to key stakeholder groups by hosting a community event or partnering with local businesses.
If the results indicate that you are able to successfully launch a campaign, congratulations!
Once the feasibility study is over, you’ll need to make any needed adjustments to your strategy and present the campaign fundraising goal, project details and best format for the campaign to your nonprofit board and leadership team.
Be sure you come in ready with a budget prepared using your nonprofit accounting software. When you set up this budget in the system, you’ll be able to display the allocation of funds for the campaign itself as well as show how it will impact the remainder of your budget.
Feasibility studies are key for analyzing whether or not your nonprofit is ready to take on a major campaign. However, they’re also important to build relationships with your nonprofit’s major stakeholders.
Be sure you maximize your feasibility study to reach its full potential with the help of a fundraising consultant.