The Case for Questioning
Let’s face it, a capital campaign is a big step. Many nonprofits have never launched one, yet they know that it’s an essential step to growth.
Nonprofit executives often compare their first capital campaigns to taking a corporation “public” — inviting new levels of scrutiny and demanding new levels of productivity in return for higher levels of achievement and prominence. Decades of experience have shown that a campaign feasibility study is the best planning tool for a capital campaign — one that enables a nonprofit of any size to realize the promise of expansion. It creates information that the campaign leadership will use throughout the fundraising drive and beyond.
Yet, even experienced fundraisers will ask why a study is needed. They say they know where the money will come from for a campaign, and that studies take time, cost money and yield predictable results. But experience has shown that a well-designed and executed feasibility study offers an invaluable opportunity for a nonprofit to reconnect with donors, cultivate new prospects and assess the image of the organization.
The typical study poses simple questions designed to assess the likelihood of a campaign’s success, such as the availability of volunteer leadership, the feasibility of the goal, the image of the organization and the value of the project to the organization’s mission. It can assess the interviewees’ understanding of the region’s economic conditions. Most importantly, it can gather durable intelligence on the contours and nodes of the network of relationships that sustains a nonprofit organization.
A good feasibility study interview is more of a discussion than a survey. During a conversation lasting less than one hour, the interviewee can answer some 20 to 25 questions. Consultants display a range of opinions on how many interviews are needed to gain an accurate picture of the attitudes of the donor community; it’s dependent on the amount of time available and the resources of the nonprofit. Studies routinely involve 40 to 60 interviews, but some have gone into the hundreds.