Feasibility Study vs Action Plan

November 24, 2017

A lot has changed in the last 20+ years in fundraising. I remember (fondly) performing Feasibility Studies prior to the launch of a capital campaign — essentially to solidify 3 main areas:

  1. Is the case cogent and compelling (and ultimately worthy of support)? I remember working for a charity in Kitchener-Waterloo and we tested 4 different projects that the organization was looking to fund. Two of them tested very favorably, while one of them needed some major refinement. The other was a dog (and it was ultimately dropped when it was time for a campaign).
  2. Would the interviewees donate if asked (and if so, what gift range)?
  3. Would the interviewee lend some volunteer leadership to the campaign?

That is essentially a feasibility in a nutshell. There are other questions of S.W.O.T. analyses and some organization-specific questions, but the three mentioned above are the core questions.

Back then, organizations hired outside counsel to perform the interviews as it was felt that the interviewees would be more candid with strangers than with the organization’s staff or leadership. (It would be an awkward conversation to have where the interviewee had many complaints about the staff/leadership). The counsel was an impartial party and there was no such thing as a wrong answer. There was not an urge on the interviewer’s part to defend any of the actions of the organization.

That was the traditional Feasibility Study — it answered the question should the organization carry on with a campaign? Is the campaign feasible? Remember that these were not random samples of interviewees, rather they were purposely skewed to the top 20% or so of constituents. You likely know what Jane Average will do, but you are unsure about John Donor — the larger donors make or break any campaign. I did, however, (once) recommend to a client that they do not proceed with a campaign for a good long while (at least 3 years). There were more skeletons in those closets than I care to remember. The organization had a lot of relationship repairing to embark on before ever thinking of running a campaign. Better the skeletons are addressed prior to the campaign than during a campaign — they can certainly derail your success. Remember in fundraising (as in most things), the truth is your friend.

A Planning Action study is really a primer for the campaign. You know that you will be running a campaign, but you need to fine-tune the goal or case. These are becoming more of the norm these days — again, they ask the Big Three questions but are much less swayed by the supplemental questions. Often these interviews are conducted by staff/leadership.

So, which one is better?

I would have to go with the all-encompassing Feasibility Study. If information is an organization’s greatest asset (and it is), then the more information you can reveal, the better it is. It need not be attributed to a specific donor, rather common themes can be reported on by counsel.

Remember an earlier post when I shared the adage “if you want advice, ask for money and if you want money, ask for advice”? That is the gospel here.