Imagine this ...
Your organization is planning a capital campaign to raise $4.5 million for a new building that’ll more than double the number of people you are able to serve.
This will be your first capital campaign. Your board members have little campaign experience and you are all appropriately anxious.
A feasibility study seems wise. You do your homework, and pick a good consultant, but when the consultant's proposal comes in with a $40,000 price tag for a 35-interview study, your board balks!
Julia, one of your most outspoken board members, leads the charge.
“Why should we spend that kind of money on a campaign consultant. Let’s do our own study!”
How should you respond? Here’s a short discussion of what’s right and what’s wrong with the Do-It-Yourself approach. And then, I offer an alternative model that might work for you.
What’s Right with a Do-it-Yourself Feasibility Study
1. You'll structure a process to engage your donors.
A feasibility-study-like process of going to get advice from your top donors is a great idea. It's a process that every organization should do before its campaign. Creating a structured process to go talk to your largest donors to get their advice will set your campaign up for success.
2. You'll hold your front-end costs down.
While you will have to spend money to raise money through your capital campaign, the less you spend in the early planning phases, before you start to ask for gifts, the better. While you can include those expenses in your campaign goal, you won't recover them until your campaign gets underway.
What’s Wrong with the D-I-Y Approach
1. You don’t have the time or expertise.
Is there anyone in your development office with the time or expertise to structure and conduct a study? Probably not. You don't have the depth of experience that a campaign consultant will have about the interview process or about how to make sense of what you hear.
2. Your donors won't tell you the tough stuff.
While your donors will be willing and happy to give you advice, they'll hesitate to tell you the tough stuff. Your long-term relationship with them is likely to keep them from sharing their most uncomfortable concerns.
3. Your results won’t have credibility.
One of the most important aspects of a feasibility study is that a positive result from a reputable outsider will help your board and your donors feel confident about your chances of success. And that confidence sets you up for success!
A Lower-Priced Alternative
Here's a lower-priced approach that gets you doing what you should be doing but also gives you the advantages of having the experienced hand of a consultant.
1. Identify and engage your top 20 to 30 donors before you do a study.
Don't wait to hire a campaign consultant before you go talk with your top donor prospects about your project. Treat them like partners in developing your plans. Or, at the very least, go talk with them as your plans take shape to get their advice.
Do your homework so you know who is most likely to give you 1 of the top 10 gifts to your campaign.
2. Engage a credible consultant for a mini-study.
Rather than hiring a consultant to interview 35 or 40 people, target his or her interviews more tightly to the donors you've identified to be the most likely to give the very top gifts. If you've done your homework, you should be able to limit the list to 20 people. That will lower your costs.
3. Ask a summary report.
Ask your consultant for a short and sweet report that makes clear the findings and recommendations but doesn’t give you a full-blown, detailed account in an extensive written report. That will save your consultant time and give you a sharper, more focused result.
Now, Convince Your Consultant
This lower-priced approach to feasibility studies will not only get you ready for a campaign in a way that sets you up for success, but it'll also reduce the up-front expenses of a full-blown feasibility study.
You may have to work to convince a consultant of the validity of this approach. It's not standard in the business. And though I think it's a good idea, consultants may not be happy to scale back their standard feasibility study package.
If they squawk, feel free to send them to me! ☺
Andrea Kihlstedt is one of the foremost writers and speakers on capital campaign fundraising. Her book Capital Campaigns, Strategies That Work, now in its fourth edition, is one of the primary texts in the field. Her firm, Capital Campaign Masters, helps organizations in the very early stages of planning capital campaigns through online materials and virtual coaching. (Note: Capital Campaign Masters does not do feasibility studies of any kind—expensive or low priced!)