The Case for Questioning
A development feasibility study is not a political poll or a marketing study. Because confidentiality is at the heart of the process, a feasibility study will not succeed in a focus group. It is not broad-based. It does not endeavor to extract consensus from a large group. Rather, it seeks to solicit the frank opinions of those few participants whose influence and affluence can ensure the campaign’s success. If done well, a feasibility study is a superb donor-cultivation tool.
Because the study doesn’t need to interview all possible prospects, it must identify and interview the right prospects. One of the most productive and reliable ways to identify them is by convening a knowledgeable volunteer committee that understands the intricacies of the organization’s philanthropic network. Board members and development staff often have reliable insights into who would be the best members of this volunteer committee. The committee can use its stature to help persuade potential interviewees to participate in the study.
One of the most important responsibilities of this volunteer group is to guide the creation of the summary statement, a short document outlining the purpose of the campaign. This brief overview often is distributed to study participants prior to the interview. Working closely with the organization’s development staff, the committee ensures that the concepts of the campaign are sound and that the funds from the campaign will advance the organization’s mission in a definitive way.
The summary statement
A feasibility study is intended to assess the donor community’s views about a specific campaign to realize a capital project, a building, an endowment or a professorship. The organization must invest all the effort necessary to ensure that this particular capital project is the right way to advance the organization. The study process assumes that the organization is asking its donor community to evaluate a project and a campaign that is the most important to the organization’s future, one in which the organization already has invested great effort.