Nonprofit Feasibility Study: 3 Tips to Know Before You Begin
What kind of groundwork, you ask? Before starting any large-scale fundraising campaign, nonprofits should always begin by conducting a feasibility study.
Nonprofit feasibility studies are assessments designed to determine an organization’s readiness to take on a fundraising campaign. They reveal your organization’s strengths and weaknesses (in regard to development) and clarify opportunities for improvement.
A comprehensive feasibility study will reveal how key stakeholders feel about your upcoming campaign, the types of fundraising strategies they respond to, and what resonates with them as supporters. Ideally, you will use study results to shape campaign elements and strategy—or focus on areas of improvement before embarking on your campaign.
Nonprofit feasibility studies are informative tools that can help nonprofits avoid fundraising catastrophe . . . yet many organizations elect to skip them. Big mistake!
Start your next big fundraising project off right by taking time to conduct a thorough feasibility study. Read on to learn how you can make the most of this important assessment.
In this article, we’ll go over:
- How conducting a feasibility study will benefit your nonprofit.
- Ways your nonprofit can misstep during your feasibility study.
- How hiring a fundraising consultant will improve feasibility study effectiveness.
Unfortunately, some organizations see feasibility studies as extraneous undertakings that cost too much money and waste too much time before their team jumps into requesting donations from supporters.
That couldn’t be further from the truth! Feasibility studies are standard procedures that provide valuable information and connections for every nonprofit that commits to the process.
Consider the following benefits of conducting a feasibility study:
- You gain valuable preliminary feedback. One of the most fundamental ways a feasibility study can help your nonprofit? Gathering preliminary feedback on the project and goal from important stakeholders—including donors, clients, volunteers and community members—which will tell you exactly how key supporters feel and what you can do to strengthen the proposed project.
- You begin building bridges with important supporters. During the feasibility study, your team will reach out to stakeholders for feedback on the project and ask if/how they would like to support the campaign. This early involvement builds understanding and buy-in. If well cultivated, these prospects may serve as significant leaders and donors to your effort.
- You identify fundraising blind spots early on. You may be counting on supporters who aren’t there, have set too high of a fundraising goal, or plan to fundraise during the wrong time of year. Sometimes, your nonprofit could benefit from added perspectives to help your team identify blind spots in your fundraising plan before it’s too late.
- You have the opportunity to reevaluate fundraising goals. After receiving feedback and identifying blind spots, your nonprofit will better know whether or not your initial fundraising goals are realistic. Perhaps the support is not yet in place to fulfill your goals, or maybe you’ll determine that you simply need more time to carry out the campaign.
Even though feasibility studies can be powerful resources for nonprofits, the fact is they are too often misused, underused, or otherwise improperly conducted.
While conducting a feasibility study is important, taking the right steps to implement it properly is equally important.
Be wary of these common mistakes that nonprofits make when it comes time to conduct a feasibility study:
- Not involving team members from across your organization. Be sure to involve team members from all departments—such as your marketing chair and development director—in your feasibility study. This way, there will be voices in the mix who will know what’s important to assess for success across your organization.
- Not involving a range of supporters. Bringing in all kinds of supporters during your study is critical. Include community members, clients, grateful families, volunteers, recurring donors, corporate partners, and others to glean insight from people with a wider perspective.
- Disregarding the results. Heed the results of your study! It can be easy to gain a sense of false confidence in your organization’s initial approach and disregard undesirable results. But, if you interview relevant people, you can be sure the data collected is solid and reveals real strengths and weaknesses. Address those weaknesses now, or you will confront them later when it’s too late to salvage the campaign.
- Coming in with preconceived notions. Similarly, if your team comes in with preconceived notions about which prospects to approach, the timeline of your campaign, or other factors, you may blind yourself to other opportunities. Although having a basic idea of how your campaign will play out is necessary, be open to changing course.
Essentially, when you conduct a feasibility study, due diligence is more important than ever! If you overlook important items, your team runs the risk of causing problems that will affect your fundraising campaign (and support for your organization) in the long run.
However, with the right practices in place, your nonprofit will be able to walk away with the data it needs to improve your fundraising plan and raise money more effectively.
Your nonprofit can misstep in numerous ways when it comes to conducting your feasibility study. However, one key move can serve your nonprofit well: enlisting the services of an experienced fundraising consultant.
Fundraising consultants are helpful partners in all areas of your nonprofit’s fundraising operations, and they can provide your team with additional guidance during the feasibility study process. They take the reins during this process by interviewing stakeholders and analyzing the data you collect.
- Interviewees can be more forthcoming with their feedback. When a fundraising consultant interviews stakeholders, individuals feel they can respond with more openness and honesty regarding issues and suggestions.
- Consultants can provide additional skills and perspectives. Consultants can provide skills and perspectives that members of your staff may not possess. Fundraising is their profession, after all! They have the benefit of working with a diverse client and project mix and know what has and hasn’t worked in the past for other nonprofits.
- Consultants can continue to advise your nonprofit in the long term. After building a relationship with a consultant during the feasibility study, your team may find it beneficial to continue the relationship after the study ends. (However, you are not obligated to hire the same consultant for the campaign; for a consultant to suggest otherwise is unethical.) They might advise your team how to build your donor base, develop your board, or even hire a development director.
However, with all of the fundraising consultants out there, deciding which firm will make the best partner for your nonprofit can be difficult. Check out DonorSearch’s guide for an overview of the top fundraising consultants before making your decision.
--Want to learn how to maximize the findings of your nonprofit’s feasibility study? Visit Aly Sterling Philanthropy for 9 tips to help your team make the most of your feasibility study’s results.
This informative post comes to the ClearView CRM blog from Giving Institute colleague Ally Sterling, an accomplished speaker, active board member and proud leader of Aly Sterling Philanthropy, a national consulting firm based in the Midwest. Her expertise includes fundraising, strategic planning, search consultation and board leadership development for organizations of varying sizes and capacities.