A Tale of 2 Studies
Eighteen months ago we conducted feasibility studies at the same time for two different clients. Both were first-timers in conducting a study — an essential step toward launching a successful major campaign.
Conducted properly, a study gives you valuable insight on current potential goals as well as what resonates with donors. If you're serious about fulfilling your mission and achieving your potential, then a study can provide a veritable gold mine, revealing what key leaders and prospective donors know about you — and what they don't. It is important to know how your image, mission, strengths, weaknesses, leadership (staff and board), programs and the projects you are considering are perceived. A study also provides insight on a potential campaign by posing questions that make you stronger in the long run.
By understanding your strengths, you can build on them. And by knowing your weaknesses, you can address them before asking for money. You'll face these same questions in a campaign, so addressing them in advance allows for greater success in less time than during an actual campaign.
It's like a market study for fundraising. When promised confidentiality in a climate of trust, I am forever amazed at what people will share — good and bad —about an organization and their interest in supporting it.
A study is a major investment in resources — both fees and time — for an organization. And it's a good test of an organization's capacity for implementing a campaign on several levels.
Let's go back to our tale of two studies. We presented our findings at about the same time to both clients. We found that neither client was ready to embark on a campaign right away. To one client — I'll call them Client A — we recommended a one-year cultivation period. Client B received a recommendation of a four-month cultivation period while addressing some significant organizational issues (staff capacity, branding and succession planning).
Client A embraced the concept of deepening donor relationships and truly being prepared for a campaign. It committed the resources necessary to engage in a national plan of cultivation of prospective major donors and campaign leadership. Today, Client A is still in the earliest phase of the campaign with more than half of its initial goal committed. Soon it'll be discussing potentially raising the goal!
On the other hand, Client B has found a location for a new facility but otherwise has not prepared for a major fundraising endeavor. Without following any recommendations, it now wishes to embark on a campaign with a goal that is double the potential we found in the study. We wish Client B well but too many times have seen campaigns falter because of organizations not taking the right — sometimes bold — steps to prepare for campaign success.
The key to that success is relationships, and relationships take time to develop. Campaigns are about vision, leadership, momentum and urgency. They are also about plans and execution. One stage lays the foundation for the next.
If you're looking at a major campaign, don't embark on it without the benefit of a study. There are many good firms that can help you. And when you embark on a study, carefully consider the findings and recommendations. In doing so, you heed the counsel of some of your brightest, most loyal friends and prospective major donors.
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.