As a nonprofit professional, you likely have big dreams to make an impact in your community and develop new innovations that take your mission to the next level. These ideas often take the form of large-scale projects or capital campaigns, which require two key considerations: funding and planning. Before you can kickstart your new project, you need to consider whether it’s a good fit for your organization and if your nonprofit has the means to tackle it.
This is where a nonprofit feasibility study comes in. A nonprofit feasibility study is the first step to any major endeavor, allowing your organization to determine the viability of the proposed project, identify potential challenges, rally early support and create a plan of action for success.
If your nonprofit is gearing up to launch a large-scale project like a capital campaign, you’ll need to have the basics of feasibility studies down. In this article, we’ll go over our top nine tips for conducting a successful nonprofit feasibility study:
1. Identify the problem, solution and benefit
2. Nail down project details
3. Hire a fundraising consultant
4. Determine key stakeholders
5. Develop a feasibility case for support
6. Cultivate stronger relationships
7. Ask the right questions
8. Accept the results
9. Prepare to move forward
Before we dive into how to conduct a thorough nonprofit feasibility study, let’s cover what exactly a nonprofit feasibility study is, including its various benefits and use cases.
What is a nonprofit feasibility study?
Nonprofit feasibility studies assess an organization’s readiness for a large project, such as a capital campaign.
Specifically, nonprofit feasibility studies capture perceptions from key stakeholders regarding your organization and the project in question. Fundraising consultants help conduct one-on-one interviews with stakeholders to gather unbiased information and feedback.
The results are then used to craft a fundraising strategy and determine whether or not the campaign should proceed. Fundraising feasibility studies can reveal tons of valuable information that your nonprofit can capitalize on, if you’re prepared.
What are the benefits of a nonprofit feasibility study?
A nonprofit feasibility study is more than a means of determining whether a project is viable; it’s also a stewardship tool that can help you grow stronger partnerships with supporters. After all, you’re reaching out to your most important contributors and supporters and demonstrating that you value their opinions, suggestions and involvement in your organization.
As such, a fundraising feasibility study can be used to deepen donors’ relationships with your organization and get them more earnestly invested in your cause.
This is just one of the many benefits of conducting a nonprofit feasibility study. These studies also allow your organization to:
- Gather feedback and information. Since you’re speaking directly with key contributors, a nonprofit feasibility study is a chance to gather feedback before you launch a project to the public. What is it about your cause that resonates with them? What fundraising strategies do they respond to, and how do they feel about your project overall? With this insight, you can develop your project so it’s as impactful as possible once it’s launched.
- Create early support and awareness for the project. Supporters who give interviews will often envision themselves as contributors to your campaign. If they can clearly picture their role in the project, then they’ll be eager to offer their support. A feasibility study is the perfect opportunity to generate early excitement for your fundraising campaign.
- Develop the campaign case for support. In a capital campaign feasibility study, you can use supporters’ feedback to inform your campaign case for support. A well-designed campaign case for support will inspire donations to your project and communicate your credibility as an organization. Any insight you can use to develop your case statement is worthwhile for your organization’s future.
- Set informed goals. By understanding how much your dedicated supporters are willing to contribute, you can better determine your overall fundraising goal. Instead of solely relying on donor data, speak directly with donors to project a campaign’s financial climate.
In addition to the items listed above, nonprofit feasibility studies can help you assess and make improvements to your overarching fundraising strategy. Whether you’re conducting a fundraising feasibility study before the launch of your capital campaign or for another large-scale fundraiser, the people you interview may have valuable advice on ways to modify your approach.
Ultimately, a nonprofit feasibility study is a tool that can help you develop donor relationships and other areas of your fundraising strategy.
When should your nonprofit conduct a feasibility study?
A nonprofit feasibility study is applicable for any major project that will require a significant amount of support and funding. Let’s take a look at specific situations where your nonprofit will need to complete a feasibility study before jumping in:
- Undertaking a capital campaign: Capital campaigns are the most common cases where nonprofits use feasibility studies. A capital campaign is a time and resource-intensive project designed to raise a specific amount of money within a defined period of time. Capital campaigns are usually conducted to tackle major endeavors like constructing a new building, renovating an existing building or purchasing new equipment. Since these projects typically require millions of dollars in funding and take several years to complete, it’s essential that your organization completes a fundraising feasibility study first.
- Launching a new program or service: If you’re planning to introduce a new program or service to your organization, you’ll need to determine whether it’s actually a good fit for your nonprofit’s mission and whether your supporters will be receptive to this change. A feasibility study can help you gauge key stakeholders’ perspectives and if you have the financial backing to launch this new program.
- Expanding an existing program or service: A feasibility study is also applicable for projects that involve changing an existing program or service. Through a fundraising feasibility study, your nonprofit can decide whether there is a demand for this change, if it addresses an existing problem and presents a clear solution and if you have the necessary resources and support to carry it out.
- Seeking major funding: Your nonprofit might want to grow an endowment or leverage an anniversary for major gift fundraising. Both of these cases require strong relationships with donors, which you’ll be able to grow during a feasibility study.
Just like the name suggests, feasibility studies are a great way to strategically assess whether the given project you have in mind is feasible and makes sense for your nonprofit. This way, you aren’t rushing into a major endeavor and risking your nonprofit’s financial well-being and reputation.
Now that you know the function of a nonprofit feasibility study, let’s get into our top tips for conducting a well-designed feasibility study for your next major project.
1. Identify the problem, solution and benefit as you begin your nonprofit feasibility study
The first step in your feasibility study is to clearly define your project plan. For example, your nonprofit might want to construct a new building. You don’t need to know the complete ins and outs of your project just yet—like zoning guidelines and local building codes and regulations (though this information is helpful)—but you do need to take this broad concept and narrow down how the proposed project meets your organization’s needs.
To develop a concrete plan, map out the problem, solution and benefit:
- Problem. What challenge or challenges will this project address? This will help you hone the focus and goal of your project, allowing you to determine whether it’s actually necessary for your organization.
- Solution. How will the project present a clear solution? If you’ve pinpointed multiple problems, think through how your project will not only address just one of these challenges, but all of them. If you’re unsure, you may need to refine your project details to better address the given challenges.
- Benefit. What benefits will this new project bring to your nonprofit and its community? If you’re struggling to come up with clear advantages, your proposed project is likely not worth the time, effort and funding you’ll have to invest into it.
Use this worksheet to draft the problem, solution and benefit of your project:
Let’s consider an example of a feasibility study from Anchor House, Inc. Anchor House is a community shelter and pantry that aims to tackle homelessness, provide hunger relief, and help families in need get back on their feet.
- Problem: Due to widespread job loss and sickness prompted by COVID-19, Anchor House anticipated a huge increase in the number of families that would need their services. However, the organization had limited shelter space and would be unable to meet this demand with its existing resources.
- Solution: Anchor House proposed building a new facility that would allow them to to serve 36 more individuals and 3 additional families at one time. As the only year-round shelter in Jackson County, Indiana, Anchor House’s second housing facility would provide more people with the care and services they need.
- Benefit: In addition to this core solution, the new facility at Anchor House would come with a new mentorship program to help individuals and families transition to more permanent housing, as well as use basic technology and safety measures to create a safe environment. Anchor House also proposed that this new facility be built where there is easy access to transportation, business and important services.
Through clearly delineating what the new facility will accomplish, Anchor House successfully identified that this was a project worth pursuing. Your nonprofit similarly needs to uncover how your proposed project will push your mission forward and aligns with your overarching goals.
2. Nail down project details
Once you’ve outlined the problem, solution and benefits, you can generate a working goal for your project. Your goal can be refined over time as you collect more information and hear from your major stakeholders, but it’s important to come up with a clear purpose statement to guide the rest of your campaign.
For example, an animal welfare organization might creating the following goal statement:
“Our goal is to raise $5 million in support of our new animal shelter, which will provide temporary homes for 300 pets as they await adoption.”
As you plan out your goal, determine specific possible routes to achieve it and the associated costs with each. For example, if your nonprofit wants a new building, you could consult with architects so that your nonprofit understands how a building project could be completed and the costs associated with it—from construction to interior design.
Since your large-scale project will require an ambitious goal, you’ll need ample time to conduct the fundraising feasibility study, leverage its results and prepare to begin if your project is feasible. As such, it’s important to set a clear timeline for your team to plan—ideally 5-6 months. Plus, you’ll need some time in between completing your feasibility study and launching your project, so take this into account as well.
If your nonprofit is planning to capitalize on an anniversary or grow your endowment, the preparation you need to do is less extensive. You should still determine a fundraising goal (or range) for the project, but you can easily revise the goal or narrow the range based on donor feedback during the study.
Likewise, you might outline three different routes to completing a capital project, with a fundraising goal for each, and use stakeholder feedback to choose the route that makes the most sense for your organization.
Ultimately, a nonprofit feasibility study will provide more insight if your organization has done the legwork to propose different fundraising strategies and build the study into your pre-campaign planning.
3. Hire a fundraising consultant for your nonprofit feasibility study
The most fundamental aspect of a nonprofit feasibility study is the interviews. Through interviews, nonprofits will gather the feedback and information they need to complete their project.
While it may be tempting to perform a fundraising feasibility study in-house, this strategy is not advisable. It may save on funds, but the cost can be much higher. An in-house interviewer may inadvertently jeopardize the study’s results.
Nonprofits are better served hiring outside assistance in the form of a fundraising consultant.
An objective third-party representative like a fundraising consultant is best equipped to conduct a nonprofit feasibility study because:
- Interviewees are more likely to be candid with someone who doesn’t have a stake in the campaign. It could be uncomfortable for a supporter to express any doubts or skepticism to an interviewer who’s enthusiastic and emotionally attached to the project. As such, supporters may over-promise their commitment.
- Consultants can approach feasibility studies strategically so that nonprofits can build sustainable solutions from the information they gather. Consultants are experts who can help you identify themes and opportunities from your interviews. Additionally, they can help you target problems and suggest how your nonprofit should address them strategically. Plus, they have the added benefit of being a fresh pair of eyes who can take a step back from your organization.
- Consultants may be more transparent and honest about their findings than someone who’s closely tied to the organization. Even unintentionally, an in-house interviewer can misrepresent a project’s feasibility and gloss over challenges. Consultants can present the results as they are so that your organization is best poised to achieve successful results.
Make sure you don’t outright hire a consultant for the entire span of your project before you’ve even finished the feasibility study. For instance, you wouldn’t want a consultant to push a project forward, despite nonprofit feasibility results, just to extend their contract for the duration of the campaign.
It’s important that a fundraising feasibility study is conducted by an unbiased party and that the results are presented as accurately as possible. Otherwise, the study could be a waste of your organization’s time and money.
Ultimately, a nonprofit feasibility study is best conducted by a fundraising consultant to avoid conflicts of interest and generate the most accurate and honest results.
4. Determine key stakeholders
The stakeholders who will be interviewed during the study should be engaged and invested in your organization.
They need to have a genuine connection to your nonprofit and actively contribute to your nonprofit’s mission, whether that’s through frequently volunteering their time, donating on a recurring basis, or offering key support in other substantial ways. Essentially, these are supporters who have followed through on tangible promises, rather than “community types” who may provide little else than verbal support or spread themselves too thin to make a big impact.
Select interviewees based upon their demonstrated commitment to your organization, including:
- Current and former board members
- Current and former major donors
- Planned gift or legacy donors
- Volunteers in leadership positions
- Community stakeholders
- Business owners
- Recipients of your nonprofit’s services (alumni, grateful patients, etc.)
Consultants usually interview 20-40 people, depending on the scope of the project.
It’s important to choose a variety of supporters who can provide diverse feedback. Enthusiasts and skeptics alike can be invaluable!
Ultimately, the stakeholders you choose for interviews should be invested in your organization and active in service to your cause.
5. Develop a feasibility case for support
A feasibility case for support is the source document for your campaign case for support. Essentially, this is an overview of your project that includes important details for consideration by stakeholders. It should also include your branded elements like fonts, color schemes, logos, and visuals to align your document with your identity.
Your feasibility case for support gives your nonprofit the opportunity to try out different messaging and theming to see how your stakeholders respond. Remember to keep this document on the shorter side—about four pages is enough content to shed light on your proposed project and why it’s necessary.
Your feasibility case for support doesn’t need to have all of the specific details of your project worked out, but it should be as close to the official campaign case for support as possible (which you’ll craft after you’ve received the results of your feasibility study and can incorporate your stakeholders’ feedback). This will save your nonprofit time when you launch your project.
To prepare your feasibility case for support, work with your consultant. A consultant can help your organization outline the most important details of your project, demonstrate its projected impact and explain how you’ll carry it out in your case for support.
Specifically, the case for support should explain:
- The organization’s mission and story, including the need for the mission and key impacts
- Need for the project framed as challenges to the mission
- Projected benefits of the project and how it will solve the challenges addressed
- Proposed project details and costs
The more specific your organization can be, the better interviewees will be able to respond to what you have to say. Their responses can help you adjust your project so that it truly furthers your mission and solves your organization’s most pressing challenges.
As you build your case for support, be sure that an emphasis is put on the challenges your nonprofit faces, the solution to address them and the overall benefit of your proposed project.
Let’s revisit our earlier example of Anchor House. In their case for support, Anchor House clearly outlines the problems their organization is facing and combines the solutions and benefits that address these challenges in a neatly organized chart. This clearly communicates the need for this project to stakeholders.
Work with your consultant to come up with the language and messaging that will best resonate with your supporters and optimize it as needed. If you’re looking for an additional resource to help you nail your case for support, check out this guide from the experts at Aly Sterling Philanthropy.
Ultimately, using stakeholder feedback, you can fine tune your project and case for support to help ensure a successful campaign (and future for your organization).
6. Cultivate stronger relationships during your nonprofit feasibility study
It’s a common misconception that fundraising feasibility studies are primarily about results. But nonprofit feasibility studies offer so much more.
Specifically, a nonprofit feasibility study is a chance to steward and cultivate stronger relationships with key donors and organizational leaders.
Nonprofits can capitalize on this opportunity by:
- Sending invitations to participate in the study that focus on the recipient, not the organization. When inviting a stakeholder to speak with your organization, it’s important to focus on their contributions, not your organization’s accomplishments. Use second person (“you”) and express how much you would like to hear about their thoughts and opinions.
- Helping participants envision themselves as contributors to your project. A fundraising consultant can help conduct the interview strategically to stir up early excitement for the campaign. It’s common for interview participants to become eager for the project once they’re asked to imagine its conception.
- Thanking participants before and after interviews to show your appreciation. When a stakeholder accepts an interview request, it’s important to thank them for taking time out of their day to meet with your organization. After the interview, again, thank them for their time and commitment to your cause!
By actively cultivating donor relationships during your fundraising feasibility study, you’re building steam for your project so that donors are invested and excited before it even gets off the ground. And of course, you’re crafting your fundraising strategy based on solid information gathered directly from your supporters!
Take their feedback seriously — showing that you value what they have to say is the best way to make them feel that their contributions matter.
Ultimately, focus on cultivating relationships during your nonprofit feasibility study to really maximize your potential.
7. Ask the right fundraising feasibility study questions
Integral to the success of your nonprofit feasibility study are the questions you ask your interviewees. It’s important to know what specific information you’re looking for so that you can best utilize what you learn.
With the help of a consultant, develop questions that determine:
- How stakeholders view the organization’s reputation
- How stakeholders view staff and board leaders
- Whether the project is perceived as needed
- If the project is financially sustainable
- If the timing of the project/campaign is strategic
- If the stated fundraising goal is attainable
- If stakeholders are interested in giving to the campaign
- Prospects for campaign major gifts and volunteer leadership positions
- Any questions or concerns that stakeholders have
With the right questions, you’re not just learning whether or not stakeholders are in support of your project, but you’re also fleshing out the logistical details of how the project would be accomplished. For example, these questions target the fundraising goal and leadership team—essential elements to any project!
At the same time, these questions look at the bigger picture. How do donors perceive your organization and the project? This is information that goes well beyond the scope of a single project; it can help you develop your nonprofit’s image and reputation for the future.
As such, the right questions will help you ask for donations from the most informed perspective.
Ultimately, the right questions will help you determine which stakeholders are in support of the project, how the project would be completed and how you can continue to strengthen your nonprofit’s public image.
8. Accept the results of your nonprofit feasibility study
After a nonprofit feasibility study, your consultant should present the results. These results will tell you, first and foremost, whether the campaign should move forward. Additionally, the results should identify problems (or potential problems) that need to be addressed for the campaign to succeed.
Plus, the study can help nonprofits identify specific areas of improvement that can strengthen their organization as a whole. For example, if your study reveals mixed perceptions of your nonprofit from community leaders, then it could be worth finding out why and potentially investing in stronger branding and messaging to solidify your public image outside of the scope of a single project.
No matter what the results of a fundraising feasibility study are, they can be used to your organization’s benefit. This is true even if the results determine that a project is not currently in your organization’s best interests.
It’s important to take your results seriously. A failed campaign can be costly and detrimental to an organization’s reputation. A nonprofit feasibility study can prevent these (usually public) failures from occurring in the first place—whether that means your organization needs to halt the campaign entirely or simply strengthen your infrastructure as you proceed.
Of course, the results may be overwhelmingly positive. In this case, it’s important to take the results just as seriously as if they were negative and still approach your campaign plan with a critical eye. Remember to factor in any new insights and information from your interviewees that can be helpful to incorporate into your project plan. Your consultant will help you identify high-level themes from interviewees and turn these into impactful suggestions for change.
Ultimately, the results of your fundraising feasibility study can benefit your organization, even if they’re negative. It’s important to take your results seriously, no matter what they are.
9. Prepare to move forward
If your consultant gives you the go-ahead to move forward with your project, they’ll present your board with an executive summary of how your nonprofit can best prepare to take your campaign live.
Specifically, your consultant will take a deep dive into your organization’s bandwidth, budget, and support system and determine how much funding you can realistically raise and the timeline for reaching your fundraising goals. This will help inform your fundraising goal that you’ll share with donors in your campaign case for support.
Then, you’ll go over your staffing needs and begin to piece together your team of cabinet members and campaign co-chairs. For instance, you’ll need a dedicated development officer, communications chair and finance chair to guide your organization through its campaign.
Your consultant will also take a close look at your technology toolkit, ensuring you have the right tools to manage a large-scale project. Nonprofits running a capital campaign or other large-scale project will typically need the following key solutions:
- Donor management software. Donor management software allows you to create comprehensive donor profiles and track your donors’ behavior. You can leverage this information to create targeted asks and grow your relationships with your supporters.
- Fundraising platform. A dedicated fundraising platform can help your organization create a user-friendly donation experience, manage campaign events and collect donor insights so you can actively adjust your strategies as needed.
- Prospect research tools. Take a deep dive into your donor database and leverage prospect research tools to identify major donors. Then, you can use this information to deepen your relationships with them and encourage giving during your large-scale project.
- Campaign website builder. To effectively market your campaign once you reach the public phase, you’ll need to create a microsite or campaign landing page as part of your main website. A nonprofit-specific website builder can help your organization create a high quality website or page with an embedded donation form.
- Email marketing software. With the help of an email marketing platform, you can automate your donation requests and updates to supporters, yet still add a personal touch by syncing with your existing donor management platforms. This will save your nonprofit team time during your campaign.
Your consultant will then present the recommended time span you’ll need to formulate your complete campaign strategy and fill in any gaps in your technology and staffing.
Ensure that your entire board is part of the process of approving the recommended next steps before moving forward. This ensures that everyone is on the same page and knows their unique role in making the campaign successful.
Your consultant will also help to form an executive summary for your key stakeholders based on the takeaways from your fundraising feasibility study and incorporate any final changes into your plan. Then, you can use all the information your organization has learned to add the finishing touches to your campaign case for support.
Ultimately, you must debrief your board and leadership team on the nonprofit feasibility study’s results and your plan to move forward with the information you’ve gathered.
A nonprofit feasibility study is the first step to ensuring the success of a major undertaking. When done correctly, a feasibility study can help your nonprofit assess its readiness, lay out clear goals and construct a roadmap for navigating any challenges your campaign might face.
But that’s not all—feasibility studies also help you actively engage your supporters and create strong relationships that will last beyond your study. Plus, the feedback you’ll receive from your stakeholders can help inform your overall fundraising strategy for your nonprofit, leading to more donations down the line.
Make sure to partner with a fundraising consultant to navigate through the feasibility study. Backed by an outside expert, you’ll be able to work through this essential step with confidence and give your nonprofit the foundation it needs to lead a winning project.
For more information about nonprofit feasibility studies and setting your organization up for success beyond your large-scale campaign, check out these handy additional resources:
- 30+ Best Fundraising Consultants for Nonprofit Organizations: Not sure which consulting firm can meet your nonprofits’ specific needs? Check out this list of the top fundraising consultants to steer your organization through the feasibility study and beyond.
- Build Your Fundraising Strategy From the Ground Up: 10 Steps: Every campaign, no matter how small or big, needs a strong fundraising strategy. Explore how your organization can build a well-designed fundraising plan.
- The Ultimate Guide to Nonprofit Donor Recognition Strategies: As you progress through your large-scale project, you’ll need to actively thank donors for their contributions to your campaign. Learn the best ways to recognize donors and retain their support for the long run.