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Rethinking Nonprofit Capital Campaign Feasibility Studies

Posted Jan 10, 2023 04:30 PM
Capital campaigns are major undertakings that have high stakes and potentially transformational benefits for your nonprofit and the community it serves. This is why it’s essential to conduct a thorough capital campaign feasibility study ahead of time to ensure you’re ready to launch such a large campaign.

But when it comes to how you conduct a feasibility study, it’s important to note that traditional best practices have evolved in recent years. We’ll explore why you should rethink the traditional feasibility study model in favor of a different one—the guided feasibility study.

What are campaign feasibility studies?

A feasibility study involves conducting a series of interviews and assessments prior to the official launch of a major fundraising campaign. This is your chance to test out your preliminary campaign plan to ensure that you’re ready to move forward with adequate support.

You’ll seek feedback on this plan by interviewing your nonprofit’s stakeholders, such as:

  • Current and prospective major donors
  • Senior-level staff and key volunteers
  • Past and current board members
  • Constituent representatives
  • Local business and community leaders
  • Other external partners and funders

Feedback from stakeholders; distilled into findings, analyses, and recommendations; will show you if your plans are realistic and feasible or if they should be adjusted to better align with what you’re likely to accomplish.

It may be tempting to forego a feasibility study, especially if your organization feels confident in the campaign it wants to run. However, recent research by Capital Campaign Pro shows that feasibility studies clearly make a positive difference in capital campaign success.

The study shows that of organizations that conducted a feasibility study, 94% strengthened major donor relationships throughout the campaign (as opposed to only 66% for organizations that didn’t conduct a study). Additionally, organizations that conducted a study raised, on average, 115% of their campaign goal. Clearly, investing the time into a careful feasibility study is worth it if you want to reap the full benefits of a capital campaign!

What is the traditional approach to feasibility studies?

A traditional feasibility study is conducted by a third-party capital campaign consultant. They handle the study’s interviews, which are confidential on the assumption that donors and other stakeholders will be more candid when speaking to an objective outsider.

The consultant then analyzes findings from the interviews and compiles them into a report and a set of recommendations for your campaign. In many cases, the consultant will also be involved in implementing those recommendations and helping to direct the campaign going forward.

4 ways traditional feasibility studies may hold you back

While the traditional feasibility study model may sound like it may save your team some time, in reality it poses several limitations that can reduce the long-term value your organization derives from the process.

This is mainly due to the fact that consultant-led interviews are conducted behind closed doors. Specifically, this can mean:

  1. Your organization won’t learn directly from the experience. Especially if this is your first capital campaign, you miss out on the valuable opportunity to begin speaking directly to donors about your campaign, major gifts, and big-picture goals.
  2. You’ll miss opportunities to begin generating campaign buy-in. Feasibility study interviews are a great chance to reinforce your relationships with key supporters by showing that you value their input. This early involvement can instill a sense of personal investment in the campaign’s success.
  3. You won’t be able to attach specific feedback to individuals. Since consultant-led interviews are confidential, you’ll be unable to address specific issues that are raised. If a major donor expresses concern about something, like your financial situation or your project management history, wouldn’t you want to know so you can personally follow up to discuss it further?
  4. Your donors might feel "put on the spot." Because of this, donors may inadvertently inflate concerns during an interview. This can skew the study’s results and create issues that otherwise wouldn’t be top priorities.

To avoid these downsides, one solution is to conduct a more hands-on style of a feasibility study.

An effective alternative: A guided feasibility study

In a guided feasibility study, you receive guidance and coaching from a capital campaign consultant, but conduct the actual stakeholder interviews yourself.

In these conversations, you’ll present your preliminary plan, goal, and case for support. Once the interviews are completed, you then work with the consultant to collate the results and derive key findings and recommendations which you can take back to your board and campaign steering committee.

Capital Campaign Pro has developed and championed this approach since 2018, having conducted 50+ feasibility studies. This approach has been demonstrated to work for the following reasons:

  • Donors prefer to meet with the leaders of the nonprofits they support and are often more candid and open with them than they are with external consultants.
  • With a little training on their side, organizational leaders can have natural and productive conversations with stakeholders.
  • Donors generally share gift indications in guided feasibility studies at a similar rate to traditional studies.
  • Boards have been accepting of the recommendations provided through guided feasibility studies and noted that the transparency of the process is beneficial to everyone involved.

A guided feasibility study can be a smart use of your time and serve as a valuable investment in both the success of the campaign and your team’s leadership, presentation, and donor stewardship skills. It’s an ideal approach for nonprofits that could particularly benefit from the learning experience and/or don’t have the budget for a fully consultant-led approach.

Some organizations may still find that a hands-off feasibility study remains their top choice, and that’s fine—the key takeaway is to remember that you have options!

About the Authors

Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, and Andrea Kihlstedt are co-founders of Capital Campaign Pro. By leveraging technology and expert advising, they have created a unique community which provides nonprofit leaders the support they need to manage campaigns efficiently and effectively. To learn more, visit