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Feasibility Studies in Advancement

Don’t you wish you had a crystal ball to tell you if your next major campaign will be successful? Well, we don’t have a crystal ball, but we do have the next best thing – a feasibility study.

fea·si·bil·i·ty stud·y
/ˌfēzəˈbilədē ˈstədē/
Noun - an assessment of the practicality of a proposed plan or method.

When contemplating a campaign, a feasibility study can help determine the organizations readiness and capability to be successful. Often, leaders like trustees and presidents think that means “we hire a consultant to interview our top donors to let us know if they are willing to support us.” Wrong!

A feasibility study is so much more. It includes an assessment of the board, president, advancement team, infrastructure and all that supports the organization's fundraising. The assessment includes interviews with your trustees, president, and senior leaders as well as an internal review of the organization, focus groups of stakeholders and surveys. All of these elements help measure the organization’s internal readiness and capability. If the internal assessment doesn’t point to success in these areas, then a “hold” is generally recommended. Fix what you need, while developing and enhancing other areas as necessary. Then, seek Board approval to move to the external study.

The external study includes individual interviews with your top 25+ donors for their consideration of your case for support with the campaign’s priorities, exploring their interest the campaign, understanding their willingness to consider a major commitment as well as what level of support and if there are particular areas of interest to them. A report on the findings of these interviews will also provide recommendations on whether you should move forward – based on the feasibility reflected in these interviews. If yes, great! Of course, the findings will help you refine your case for support to ensure optimal understanding and inspiration. If no, why and what is necessary to move to a more positive direction for a campaign. Smaller? Next year? Were there other concerns raised that need to be addressed?

Having conducted many feasibility studies for a variety of organizations, here are five key factors that I’ve learned about feasibility studies:

  1. Without a strategic plan, I am not sure there will be success in any campaign. It is the process of developing and establishing the strategic plan that unites all your stakeholders. Its vision, mission and key priorities gain massive support so that you can then align your institution for resources to follow. Through the strategic planning process, the engagement of your stakeholders is key.
  2. I never want to my client to fail in a campaign, so the depth and breadth of these assessments is critical and addressing the challenges, leveraging the opportunities and engaging all relevant stakeholders.
  3. Campaign goals are more than a dollar amount. They should include the positioning of your institution in the region, nation and international, for educational institutions, especially around increases in applications and acceptance rates. There can be other goals that advance the college/university/organization.

    For example, goals to Boston College’s most recent $1.6 billion Light the World campaign included goals for alumni and parent engagement in giving and serving in the campaign. “There are many reasons why Light the World proved to be such a success, beginning with the 140,000 alumni, parents and friends who gave to the campaign and the countless volunteers whose service was essential to the work of the campaign,” said Senior Vice President for University Advancement James Husson.

  4. Without the Board of Trustees full awareness, understanding and acceptance that it is their campaign to succeed, these campaigns, while possible, may be much more challenging. The board has a fiduciary responsibility that includes the stewardship of all resources needed to achieve the organization’s mission. Yes, success comes when the Board, president and campus steps up. The advancement team, obviously, plays a critical role in pulling the stakeholders together.
  5. The leadership of the advancement team is also very key. Their attributes and talent will be most valuable, including recruiting, retaining and developing the staff. Fully engaging these team members is what keeps the campaign together---in the ups and downs and the unexpected.

Surely, a feasibility study isn’t a crystal ball that ensures success. But it sure can give you a good idea of your likelihood of success!

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