Nonprofit Feasibility Studies: 6 Game-Changing Best Practices

July 10, 2017 Jenny Goldberg

The debate surrounding nonprofit feasibility studies can sometimes pose interesting questions: Do nonprofits need to conduct them to host successful capital campaigns? Are they worth the cost?

Here’s where we stand: nonprofit feasibility studies are valuable tools that can help you strengthen donor relationships, build your internal operations and prepare for a fundraising campaign with the most direct information available to your organization.

Any campaign has inherent risk, especially with large, public endeavors like capital campaigns. To avoid common blunders, follow these six foolproof practices during your feasibility study:

  1. Know the feasibility study process like the back of your hand.
  2. Don’t knock the benefits of outside assistance.
  3. Cultivate donors by making genuine connections.
  4. Jumpstart corporate philanthropy ASAP.
  5. Carefully consider the feasibility study results.
  6. Develop a rockstar case for support.

By analyzing your fundraising strategy through past ROI and direct donor feedback, you’ll be better equipped to succeed.

But first — what is a nonprofit feasibility study, and how can you succeed in conducting one? Let’s talk it through with these best practices.

Nonprofit Feasibility Studies

1. Know the feasibility study process like the back of your hand

Successful feasibility studies occur when everyone on your team is on the same page. The better you can anticipate each stage of the study, the better you can prepare accordingly and maximize your time.

For starters, recognize that feasibility studies can take anywhere between 3-4 months. During the course of the study, your organization will invite major stakeholders to one-on-one interviews.

Specifically, your nonprofit will likely reach out to:

  • Current and former major donors
  • Planned gift donors
  • Board members
  • Volunteers in leadership positions
  • Community leaders
  • Vendors and business owners
  • Recipients of your organization’s services, such as patients or students

During these one-on-one interviews, your nonprofit has the unique opportunity to gain direct supporter feedback in an intimate setting.

The purpose of these interviews is twofold:

  1. To learn more about your supporters.
  2. To learn if your donors will be interested in supporting your proposed campaign.

Face time with donors is key to building stronger relationships.

Half (or arguably, even more) of the value of these interviews is the chance to cultivate a relationship by showing the donor how much you value their feedback.

Learn more about each phase in the feasibility study process with Double the Donation’s step-by-step guide!

Nonprofit Feasibility Studies

2. Don’t knock the benefits of outside assistance

To conduct the feasibility study interviews, your nonprofit will need a third-party representative. Most often, nonprofits hire fundraising consultants to conduct the study itself.

Fundraising consultants can interview organizational stakeholders without bias.

These professionals can also offer outside expertise your team may not have and a fresh perspective you may not have considered before.

Still, some nonprofits argue that hiring a consultant is too expensive and instead opt to conduct an in-house study. However, doing so can put your results in jeopardy.

Even the most well-intentioned staff member can carry bias toward your organization.

Plus, even if your staff member is objective, your interviewees may struggle to be honest to a friendly face. After all, donors may avoid voicing their concerns and hesitations if they feel they may disappoint someone they know and recognize.

As such, an in-house interviewer can accidentally leave holes in their report or push the project forward even if it’s not in your nonprofit’s best interests.

Discover everything you need to know about hiring an expert fundraising consultant by checking out Aly Sterling Philanthropy’s top tips!

Nonprofit Feasibility Studies

3. Cultivate donors by making genuine connections

Above all, your feasibility study is a tool through which you can build stronger donor relationships.

Your nonprofit may not be able to influence every donor opinion to your liking, but you can at least address their concerns by listening and responding. This acknowledgment of your donors’ feelings will go a long way in building growing relationships.

Another good idea is for your nonprofit to work with a capital campaign or fundraising consultant to tailor questions that encompass multiple areas of donor involvement.

During this stage, your interviewer should encourage donors to offer suggestions on prime contenders for leadership positions as well as how their individual talents can impact the project.

This proactive action will go a long way in recruiting a strong group of loyal supporters to stand behind your nonprofit’s capital campaign.

Stressing your nonprofit’s heartfelt mission and story to integral donors also never hurts.

To achieve this connection, set up a storytelling strategy in advance full of examples of your nonprofit’s origin and success stories to win over donors on a shared human level.

Some strong areas where your nonprofit can promote engaging storytelling may include:

  • Face-to-face donor interactions at fundraisers and volunteer opportunities.
  • The mission and vision sections on your nonprofit website.
  • Multimedia outreach photos, videos, infographics, etc. on your nonprofit’s social media pages.  

In addition, this strategy will especially come in handy while building your case for support. This crucial element comprises your nonprofit’s reasons for existing and hosting your capital campaign, and a strong storytelling angle will definitely help attract interviewees and rally support during the public phase of your project.

Finally, never forget to thank your donors for participating in your feasibility study, which will ultimately help pave the road to success for your budding capital campaign.

Nonprofit Feasibility Studies

4. Jumpstart corporate philanthropy ASAP

In addition to targeting individual donors, your nonprofit should also be actively seeking corporate philanthropy support for your capital campaign during the feasibility study.

Start by reaching out to prominent community businesses and vendor to get a sense of your nonprofit’s reputation and the likelihood of gaining financial support for your capital campaign.

During this time, your nonprofit should frame interview questions in your feasibility study that target corporate philanthropy in order to grow initial relationships.

You can also find community donors by looking into corporations with a matching gift program to determine which businesses are already making nonprofit contributions.

To narrow down these results faster, consider using a matching gift database to access key information about prominent employers’ matching gift partnerships with nonprofits.

This software will prevent you from having to inspect multiple company websites to figure out which employers are most likely to offer their time and resources to your campaign based off their matching gift history.

Once you’ve found a promising corporate sponsor during your feasibility study, be prepared to sell them on key advantages they’re guaranteed to get out of working with your capital campaign, including:

  • A positive and community-oriented brand and reputation.
  • Marketing and promotional opportunities for products and services.  
  • An opening with a potential new audience or target demographic.

By the end of your appeal, a corporate sponsor should always have a good understanding of how a partnership with your nonprofit will benefit both organizations.

Nonprofit Feasibility Studies

5. Carefully consider the feasibility study results

When all is said and done, examining your nonprofit’s feasibility study results can be nerve wracking.

That being said, don’t be disheartened if the feasibility study results don’t turn out the way you expected. All this mean is it that now you have the necessary information for making your capital campaign even stronger.

Take the opportunity to identify and analyze negative outcomes and brainstorm new, successful routes to take your campaign in as a team.

Some critical areas of improvement your feasibility study may catch include:

  • Lack of interest and awareness from your nonprofit’s supporters.
  • A disorganized and unreliable leadership team and board.
  • Ineffective fundraising initiatives and donation solicitation strategies.
  • A flawed budget incapable of supporting your long-term needs.

Failure to take your feasibility results seriously will hurt your campaign down the road by not addressing vital concerns ahead of time and no one wants to dive into an ill-fated project.

However, another purpose of a feasibility study to determine whether or not your nonprofit should move forward with your proposed project.

Sometimes a nonprofit won’t have the funds or resources to proceed with a capital campaign, and a feasibility study can help ensure that your nonprofit doesn’t put any long-term fundraising at risk.

Therefore, keep up momentum and excitement for your capital campaign by strengthening the sum of your parts beforehand to achieve one invincible whole.

Nonprofit Feasibility Studies

6. Develop a rockstar case for support

Now that you’ve built a strong foundation for your capital campaign, it’s time to use your feasibility study outcomes for putting together a rockstar case for support.

This essential document will emphasize the value of your capital campaign to donors by detailing your process and end goals shaped by your feasibility study.

More often than not, the success of your campaign will depend on how well you’ve articulated and backed up your case for support, and whether you’ve applied the results of the feasibility study.  

A few key aspects of your feasibility study to keep in mind for building your case for support may include:

  • Your nonprofit’s mission and story, and the need for your services.
  • Why is the project needed and projected impacts on the community.
  • The proposed fees and costs of your project.
  • The answers to common questions collected in your study.

Furthermore, your case for support should include a breakdown of your fundraising campaign budget and how donor funds will be used, as determined in your feasibility study.  

In short, a prime feasibility study will provide your nonprofit with the direction and solutions you need for crafting a compelling case for support.

The key to ensuring a memorable and lucrative capital campaign all comes back to running an effective feasibility study. By following along with these best practices, your nonprofit will be on its way to cultivating an influential capital campaign in no time.

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