At Rose City Philanthropy we love working with teams to prepare for a major capital effort. A capital campaign can rally a community and propel an organization to new heights like few other projects can.
Too often, however, I hear this: “My board wants a feasibility study but we’re going to build regardless of the outcome.”
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The client then politely tells me that they don’t necessarily plan to follow our recommendations unless our findings support their vision of the project. They believe (falsely) that the reason for a feasibility study is to satisfy their donors and funders: sort of like a box they need to check before moving on to the campaign. Let’s unpack this.
The purpose of a feasibility study is to answer the question: will our community provide enough support to make this effort a reality?
A study also surfaces possible objections or challenges to the campaign so that you can resolve them before they impact progress. A study Identifies potential leadership for the campaign and assesses your organization’s readiness to lead the effort. In short, a feasibility study mitigates your risk so that you don’t move forward with a project that won’t garner support.
Once you break ground, you’ll be committed to completing the project regardless of how the fundraising goes. That’s why feasibility studies are so important.
If your organization doesn’t need the support of others, then you may not need a traditional feasibility study. Many institutions self-fund projects. For some projects, financing may be a better choice than a community campaign. In this scenario, we call the early discovery work a pre-campaign or planning study.
The difference between a pre-campaign or planning study and a feasibility study is that a feasibility study tests leadership capacity and potential financial support of the community; the pre-campaign or planning study assumes leadership and financial support will be provided by the institution, not the community.
It is helpful to be clear which camp your organization is in before going too far down the campaign path. There are many good reasons not to do a traditional capital campaign: they are expensive; they require a lot of time; and they need constant care and feeding by leadership and staff which means that other priorities will need to take a back seat.
If a study seems too expensive, you might not be ready for a campaign. Campaigns require investment to be successful and owning a building that your organization can’t afford is an uncomfortable reality when a capital campaign fails.
I am a trusted nonprofit consultant with 21 years of experience serving mission-driven institutions. At Rose City Philanthropy we specialize in strategic, people-centered fundraising solutions. We love walking teams through feasibility studies, strategic planning, and capital campaign development. We bring a data-informed approach that is rooted in best practice and honors the unique culture and values of the organizations with whom we work.