"Feasibility study." These must be among the most dreaded words in a nonprofit's vocabulary.
Maybe that's what leads some to make choices that are familiar, comforting and close to home.
But if you are preparing to make a big leap, you don't tether yourself to a post for safety. Instead, you prepare, prepare, prepare and then jump free and successfully to where you need to go.
If you haven't conducted a capital campaign, you may not be aware of the phrase "feasibility study." Briefly, it's an analysis of the organization's readiness for a major fundraising project.
The study establishes a realistic goal. It identifies top donors. It also let's you know exactly how the community feels about the organization, its staff and board, the project and the goal.
A study isn't cheap. And it takes time. But it's one of the best investments an organization can make in its future growth.
A good study can determine exactly what needs to be done and who will do it. Without one, a campaign is a journey to an unknown destination without a compass.
But here's where the fear kicks in.
Since the study and its outcome are such unknowns, and the cost is new to the budget, many organizations try to find the most comfortable way of executing it. They look for ways to make it "local."
One way to make it local is to Do-It-Yourself. This also makes it very "inexpensive." It sounds great, of course, but it ignores the reality that building a campaign is like building a house. Even for the most able hands
usually involves some outside expertise.
We've all seen homes with a bit of homemade wiring. The power may indeed flow. For now. But not necessarily forever. And it significantly risks future plans as well.
Another way to make it local is to engage a local consultant. They know the local environment and people, right?
But this erases the central value of a good feasibility study. Objectivity. Studies by consultants from outside your area aren't mired by assumptions about your community or individuals within it.
Experienced national consultants don't look to what they know. They look to what they see and hear. They look for not what has been but what can be.
A third and final way to retain the local comfort zone in a study is to engage in "collaborative interviewing." This approach sounds wonderful. Not only does a skilled consultant go and talk with your probable major donors. You get to go too!
Now collaboration is key to all work with a consultant. It should be that way in every facet of their work with you. They should collaborate on the case statement, the interview list, the questions, and many other elements of the study.
But the collaboration in the interview is with the donor. Not the organization. It allows for the interviewee to be the complete center of attention. We want to know what they think. And the interview should allow the interviewee to say anything and everything without holding back.
I have heard wonderful praise and damning criticism--sometimes in the same interviews--from an organization's closest friends. Things they never have said in quite that way to the organization's president, executive director or board member.
In an age of "donorcentric" fundraising, I can think of nothing more donor-centered than giving donors space to speak freely.
And as we pass another independence day here in America, I can think of few things more liberating than being able to hear our supporters clearly as well.
Written by Jay Frost and appearing in the July 3, 2013 Fundraising Digest Weekly