by Angela White
After 19 years of consulting, the feasibility study process is still the most rewarding work that I do at JGA. We are honored that so many esteemed nonprofit organizations trust JGA to step into key donor relationships and assist in strengthening donor bonds that advance their missions.
A feasibility study is an extension of an organization’s major and planned gift work and is the most authentic way for a nonprofit to test the gifting inclination and capacity of the top 10% of its donor base when considering a fundraising campaign. This crucial contingent of generous donors typically provides 94% of all campaign gifts nationally, so soliciting their input in the early stages of campaign planning is vital to shape campaign strategy and goal-setting.
However, not all feasibility studies are created equal. An effective feasibility study follows the completion of good institutional planning and sound leadership. In our experience at JGA, there are four key feasibility study components that make the difference for conducting an effective feasibility study:
1. Relationship Building – The feasibility study is an extension of the major gift relationship and provides a level of credibility to sophisticated prospects. Thus, a consultant must be a trusted partner with a nonprofit before beginning a feasibility study process. The nonprofit must feel comfortable with the consultants who will be meeting with their top prospects. Most prospects welcome the opportunity to spend a thoughtful 45 to 60 minutes in conversation with a consultant about a nonprofit for which they feel strongly.
2. Objectivity – Whereby the consultant and the nonprofit must be trusted partners, an effective feasibility study requires a high level of objectivity. From the viewpoint of the donor, a consultant provides a safe opportunity for interviewees to express their true thoughts and feelings. From the viewpoint of the nonprofit, a consultant listens with objectivity to the input of the prospect and is able to assess the feedback from an objective perspective.
3. Authenticity – An effective feasibility study should be a stand-alone piece of work that begins with a blank piece of paper – no pre-determined outcomes nor promises of ongoing campaign counsel. Consultants must be honest and authentic – sharing not what the nonprofit wants to hear, but what it must hear to craft a plan for campaign success.
4. Appreciative Inquiry – The key to a successful feasibility interview is to have a conversation with a donor that is directed by an appreciation for the mission of the nonprofit. The interview is really a conversation that should help the interviewee express their hopes and aspirations for the future of the nonprofit. Rather than run through a checklist of questions, the conversation should engage the prospect in a discussion developed through asking the right set of questions.
It is the meaningful conversations with donors who share their impassioned views on the future that make conducting a feasibility study not only rewarding for me as a consultant, but a crucial step in campaign planning. Taking the time to engage your key constituents in conversations about your plans for the future allows you to build consensus, excitement, and support in the beginning among those most likely to support your campaign.