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Beware of the Feeble Feasibility Study

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Not all feasibility studies are created equal.

Over the years I have reviewed feasibility studies done by other consultants so I could prepare a proposal or assume the role of counsel for a prescribed campaign goal. Too often, the studies did not address the issues that are key to campaign success, or were unable to justify the recommended goal… in my humble opinion. The client organizations often seemed satisfied with the report findings… until the rubber hit the road and the realities of campaigning set in.

This post is meant to provide perspective for organizations considering a campaign and for the consultants who are hired to perform their studies. I do this for two primary reason. First, stakeholder organizations should have realistic expectations to succeed with their campaign. Second, the fundraising consulting industry should up its game because inferior work by some reflects poorly on the rest of us.

I am not going to give away Copley Raff’s playbook for feasibility and campaign studies, but I do want to address the key information that MUST be sought and addressed by the study findings.

Vision and Plan: The organization needs to know what success looks like in ten years and have a plan to make it happen…in that order. Does the vision resonate with stakeholders? Do the plan and the associated costs make sense?

Leadership: Board, Executive and Development leadership are central to success. Is everyone on the campaign bus or are their key players on the sidelines? Who will be driving the bus, are there empty seats and are there people to sit in them as active allies?

Case: The campaign case needs to align with the vision and plan, and resonate with donor candidates. It needs to be well-written, compelling, convey a sense of urgency, and provide enough detail for general understanding. These discussions are very important and often reveal yet to be considered opportunities and challenges.

Operational Capacity: A deep analysis of past fundraising activity, staff capacity and much more needs to be part of feasibility considerations. Analytics need to be done on the donor file and recommendations specific to the organization need to be grounded in best practices and realism.

Engaged or engage-able donor candidates: Interviews with donors need to include questions of their potential for financial and/or leadership support, and at approximately what level. Is the organization near or at the top of the interviewee’s philanthropic priorities? What do they think about your organization’s leadership, management and mission?

These are just a few very important issues that must be addressed in a feasibility study report. There are many others. So, if you represent an organization seeking outside counsel to conduct a feasibility or campaign study, I suggest you request a sanitized example of two prior reports the consultant has provided to clients that are both similar and dissimilar to your organization. You will quickly see how well they construct their study methodology, how effective they are interviewing your most important stakeholders, the quality of their case statement writing, and how well they interpret the data leading to sound recommendations.

Your Takeaways:

1. Before undertaking a campaign study, be sure you are ready to execute on the findings in short order, because, in effect, the study is the beginning of your campaign.

2. Do not waste your money and undertake a study if your organization does not have the fundamentals in place…vision, leadership, a plan and cases for support,.

3. If you are considering a multi-million dollar campaign do not skimp on the cost of getting a solid analysis of your situation. Hire the consultant/firm that will deliver the most useful and comprehensive deliverables.


  1. Paul Quin

    Any professional whose conducted successful studies recognizes the critical indices to assess with their clients’ constituencies. The proof is in the depth and integrity of the report and the client’s Philanthropic acumen to discern the probability of achieving a desired goal. Great campaigns often result from the coordination, cooperation and cohesion between the study and campaign director(s).

  2. Kevin Engler

    As a supplement to Larry’s great message, I’d like to offer the following: It’s often said that the success in a retail oriented business is “location, location, location.” In the many years that I have worked in or with nonprofit organizations as a mid-manager, unit director, and consultant, I can say without reservation that fundraising success — regardless of the type of campaign or how significant its financial goal — is: “leadership, leadership, leadership.” Fundraising at all levels is a team sport. It’s true that a strong case that’s embraced by organizational leadership and their constituents is important. But the dynamics of orchestrating a successful fundraising campaign should not be the sole responsibility of the Development Director or Office. Board members, Executive Directors, CEO’s, etc ., must all roll up their sleeves and do their part — in both giving and getting — for the campaign to be successful.

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