5 Steps to Conducting a Successful Nonprofit Feasibility Study
Feasibility studies are some of the cornerstone elements of planning fundraising campaigns for nonprofits. Before your organization invests time and money into your next big campaign, you need to know whether or not your team is ready to take on the challenge.
That being said, many nonprofits don’t really understand what it takes to conduct an informative fundraising feasibility study or aren’t prepared to leverage the findings of the study into more strategic fundraising practices.
Want to get more from your nonprofit’s next feasibility study? Discover some of our favorite steps for success, including:
- Hire a nonprofit consultant to lead your study.
- Analyze your organization’s fundraising track record.
- Align your team’s internal expectations for the campaign.
- Conduct stakeholder interviews.
- Forge a path forward with your nonprofit consultant.
Ready to get started on your next feasibility study? Let’s dive into these steps in a bit more detail!
Bonus! There’s never been a better time to revamp how your nonprofit takes on feasibility studies. Check out Aly Sterling Philanthropy’s guide to nonprofit feasibility studies for even more strategies!
1. Hire a nonprofit consultant to lead your study.
One of the easiest ways to ensure that your nonprofit’s next feasibility study is a success is by hiring a dedicated nonprofit consultant to lead the process.
Nonprofit consultants oversee the feasibility study process from start to finish so your team can focus on fundraising.
Most firms offer feasibility studies as an à la carte option. If you find the experience informative, your nonprofit might even extend the partnership to include campaign direction or nonprofit leadership succession planning.
During the feasibility study, your consultant will:
- Interview stakeholders in your nonprofit.
- Conduct research into your organization’s fundraising strategy.
- Analyze findings of the study to determine campaign viability.
- Offer up their assessment of how your nonprofit can prepare for a campaign.
Since these consultants aren’t members of your nonprofit’s constituency or staff, they’ll be able to offer an unbiased outsider’s perspective into the campaign. This can make a huge difference in understanding the realities of your fundraising strategy and how it compares to similar organizations.
2. Analyze your organization’s fundraising track record.
Once your team has hired the right nonprofit consultant, they’ll begin the preliminary phase of your feasibility study by analyzing the fundraising track record of your organization.
The biggest predictor of fundraising success? Past fundraising achievements!
By understanding where your organization has historically struggled or succeeded, your consultant will have an initial impression of the viability of your proposed campaign.
Before launching into stakeholder interviews, your consultant will meet with your nonprofit’s team members and ask a series of questions. They might ask:
- What kind of campaigns have you conducted previously?
- What were the fundraising goals of these campaigns?
- Have you ever conducted a campaign at this scale before?
- When have campaigns failed or struggled to meet their goals?
- How does your nonprofit grow its constituency from campaign to campaign?
In addition to these interviews, your consultant should also complete independent research into the fundraising success of your organization. If internal perceptions don’t match reality, then that’s a big red flag.
After your consultant has completed their preliminary analysis of your nonprofit’s fundraising track record, they’ll be able to ask more informed feasibility study questions during the interview phase as well as be better prepared to prescribe next steps at the end of the study.
3. Align your team’s internal expectations for the campaign.
One of the most common challenges that nonprofits face when preparing for a fundraising campaign is a misalignment of internal expectations.
In fact, your organization risks fundraising failure if your executive leaders, staff, and board aren’t on the same page when it comes to important campaign goals and expectations.
Not only does your consultant serve as an intermediary between your organization and external stakeholders, but they also can help your team identify where internal expectations need to be aligned.
For example, as your nonprofit prepares for the feasibility study your consultant should determine if clarification is needed in areas such as:
- Fundraising goal.
- Campaign timeline.
- Stewardship strategy.
- Organizational growth strategies.
- Staffing assignments.
- Board responsibilities.
If there are misunderstandings related to the campaign’s fundraising plan, now is the time to iron them out. By the time stakeholder interviews are conducted, your proposed fundraising plan should be finalized and clearly understood by your whole team.
After all, if different team members are under different impressions of how the campaign will play out, the findings collected during the study simply won’t be useful.
4. Conduct stakeholder interviews.
The stakeholder interview phase of the feasibility study process is likely what first comes to mind when one thinks of feasibility studies.
During the interview period, your nonprofit consultant will meet with important internal and external voices at your organization.
Your consultant should gather together a panel including:
- Board members.
- Internal leaders.
- General staff members.
- Established donors.
- Community leaders.
- Necessary prospects.
They’ll ask them for their impression on your proposed campaign and establish a better understanding of how they can help make your campaign a success. It’s important to build a panel of diverse voices so that your consultant can paint a complete picture of the kind of support your campaign will be able to count on.
Over the course of these feasibility study interviews, your consultant will ask interviewees exploratory questions such as:
- What is your history with this organization?
- What connects you to the nonprofit’s mission?
- Do you believe in the leadership/direction of this nonprofit?
- How do you feel about the aims of this fundraising campaign?
- Do you think the fundraising goal and timeline are reasonable?
While some nonprofits might be tempted to carry out these interviews in-house, it’s actually more effective for your consultant to take the lead during this process.
Not only does it help to have their third-party expertise when developing interview questions, but you’ll find that interviewees are more likely to provide candid responses when a consultant is conducting interviews.
Since your consultant isn’t a member of your nonprofit, internal staff are also likely to be more comfortable bringing up issues they have with the proposed campaign. Similarly, external supporters and community members are less likely to overstate their interest or willingness to participate in the campaign when a consultant is interviewing them.
5. Forge a path forward with your nonprofit consultant.
Your nonprofit’s feasibility study isn’t over at the end of stakeholder interviews. After your consultant has conducted interviews and gathered the findings of your study, your nonprofit is ready to get started making necessary changes to your campaign plan.
Discussing the findings of your feasibility study with your nonprofit’s consultant is the most important aspect of this campaign planning exercise. While it might be tempting to brush aside the results of this study, your organization should take serious note of your consultant’s recommendations.
At this stage, your consultant will either tell your team you’re ready to move forward with your campaign within the planned timeline or that you’ll need to head back to the drawing board.
However, even if your nonprofit is ready to launch your campaign, your consultant will likely suggest areas of improvement you can make to your strategy, including:
- Identifying additional prospects for gifts.
- Hiring additional staff to carry out the campaign.
- Updating campaign collateral like your case statement.
- Retaining more donors year over year.
On the other hand, if your consultant suggests putting the brakes on your proposed campaign, they’ll still be able to suggest ways your nonprofit can prepare for the campaign you envision over time. These might include:
- Growing your fundraising capacity by increasing your annual fund goal.
- Changing the fundraising objective of your campaign.
- Making changes in the internal leadership structure of your organization.
- Planning seed campaigns for your eventual campaign.
Whether the changes your consultant suggests are small or large, it may take months or even years for your organization to get ready to put the plans for your desired campaign into motion.
However, by heeding your consultant’s expertise, you’ll be able to trust that the changes you make will pay off down the line.
Is your nonprofit ready to rethink how you approach fundraising feasibility studies? With these simple steps, your next campaign is sure to be a huge success!
This guest blog article was authored by Dylan Thomas from Aly Sterling Philanthropy