Capital campaigns require significant investments of your organization’s time, resources, and energy. So, just like someone buying a car or a house, you need to go into this investment with your eyes wide open.

That’s where a planning and feasibility study comes in. In this quick guide, we’ll explore what feasibility studies are, how they work, and how they can help your nonprofit get a strong start to a capital campaign.

By prioritizing a feasibility study and acting on its findings, your organization can set itself up to reap the benefits of a successful campaign: funding for a major capacity-building project, expanding your fundraising efforts, and teaching your team valuable fundraising and stewardship lessons along the way.

What are feasibility studies?

According to Capital Campaign Pro, a feasibility study is “a way of testing your plan and goals for an upcoming capital campaign.” This involves holding interviews and discussions with your organization’s key stakeholders, such as:

During these interviews, you or a fundraising consultant will gauge your stakeholder’s thoughts and opinions on your initial campaign plans. What do they think of its objectives and preliminary fundraising goal? What are their reactions to your working case for support? Do they think your organization can realistically reach that goal to accomplish the objectives? Do they have other concerns? Are they excited about the prospect of your nonprofit reaching the next level of impact and capacity?

The findings from your feasibility study interviews are then compiled and presented to your board to help them make a decision about moving forward with your campaign. In some cases, the study findings will trigger a reexamination of your campaign plans and/or goal.

What is the purpose of a feasibility study?

A feasibility study will safeguard your nonprofit’s time, resources, and energy and keep you from conducting a campaign that isn’t likely to be successful.

The interviews show you early on if the campaign’s key donors are truly interested in the campaign and up to the task of helping you drive it to success.

Think of it this way—you don’t want to commit years of hard work to a campaign if you already know that your stakeholders don’t believe in your plan and aren’t likely to give at the levels necessary for success. Alternatively, if you find that key supporters think you can and should go even higher with your working goal, you don’t want to stick with the smaller goal when you can realistically raise more money than you thought possible.

Your feasibility study tests your plans and will give you concrete information to inform your direction: go full steam ahead with your current plans or revise the campaign’s scope by raising or lowering its goal.

Plus, research shows that feasibility studies make a positive difference on campaign outcomes. In a recent benchmark study, 94% of organizations that conducted a feasibility study strengthened relationships with their major donors. These organizations also raised, on average, 115% of their campaign goal!

When should you conduct a campaign feasibility study?

As mentioned above, a feasibility study tests a plan and a fundraising goal. But it should happen before you officially begin raising money for the campaign and long before you announce the campaign publicly.

You’ll need to have a clear idea of your campaign’s objectives—what you want to accomplish, purchase, or build with the funds raised—and an initial financial goal—the amount you’ll need to reach those objectives.

What are the most effective ways to conduct feasibility studies?

There are two different models or approaches for conducting feasibility studies. These are:

This image and the text below describe two approaches to feasibility studies.

  1. The consultant-led approach. An outside fundraising consultant conducts the study for your nonprofit from start to finish. They’ll conduct confidential interviews with your campaign stakeholders and report back to you with their findings and recommendations.
  2. The guided approach. With a guided feasibility study, a fundraising consultant, guide, or coach shows you the ropes and your leadership conducts the interviews themselves. Then, you’ll work together to review the findings, write the recommendations, and present them to your board.

Which model is the most effective? Either can be a good choice depending on your nonprofit’s size, bandwidth, and experience. For maximum, long-term value, we recommend guided feasibility studies.

This is because a hands-on approach plus expert support gives you both the findings you need to move forward and direct experience and confidence to carry forward into your campaign. These are some of the key benefits of this approach:

  • Hands-on interviews enable active participation and learning for your nonprofit.
  • Being interviewed by your director or other leader strengthens the relationships between the organization and the donors.
  • This personal touch can generate more buy-in from prospects and often leads more directly to a campaign gift.
  • Directly interviewing stakeholders gives you clearer insights into all the responses and findings that come out of the process, not just those a consultant deems relevant.

These benefits all spring from the fact that a guided feasibility study’s stakeholder interviews are not confidential. Confidential interviews are the classic approach. The rationale is that donors and team members are more likely to honestly speak their minds about your nonprofit’s leadership and plans when interviewed by a consultant behind closed doors.

However, this rationale doesn’t hold up across the board. Many donors (especially loyal, high-value donors whose relationships are the most important for your nonprofit) would rather talk directly with your leadership. If asked, they will be happy to discuss their ideas and concerns directly.

Relying on a third party to conduct the interviews doesn’t allow your team to actively learn from the experience. They might miss the insights and context that direct conversations will yield and the chance to address major donors’ concerns directly.

To ensure your nonprofit is prepared for a capital campaign, conduct a thorough planning and feasibility study. Whichever model you choose to use, your feasibility study will be an invaluable opportunity for your nonprofit to get important feedback from your most influential donors and constituents.

Before diving into early campaign planning and a feasibility study, use Capital Campaign Pro’s free assessment tool to gauge how ready you are for a campaign!