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Conduct a Capital Campaign Feasibility Study: 5-Step Guide

A capital campaign feasibility study, also called a campaign planning study, helps nonprofits prepare for major fundraising campaigns. By analyzing your fundraising infrastructure and potential for financial support, an effective study helps you lay the groundwork for a bold, ambitious, and successful campaign.

If you’re planning your nonprofit’s first capital campaign or working on one for the first time, you likely have a few questions. This guide will cover all the essentials:

Understanding the what, why, and how of campaign planning studies will allow your nonprofit to navigate this crucial early step of your campaign with confidence. Let’s get started with some essential background information.

Learn more about Graham-Pelton's custom feasibility study services.

Understanding the Basics of Capital Campaign Feasibility Studies

What is a campaign feasibility study?

A capital campaign feasibility study or planning study consists of research, interviews, and analyses that seek to measure a nonprofit’s preparedness to undertake a proposed capital campaign. An effective planning study results in a set of recommended adjustments to the campaign plan to maximize the chances of success.

What’s the purpose of a fundraising feasibility study?

A feasibility study does not flatly tell you whether or not you can conduct a capital campaign.

The purpose is instead to gauge your readiness to reach your working campaign goal. A study will give you a clearer sense of your current fundraising capacity, your prospect pipeline, and what adjustments you may need to make to your plan and goal to succeed. Note that this process requires already having a preliminary plan and fundraising goal in mind.

Important context: We at Graham-Pelton prefer the more holistic term “planning study” over “feasibility study,” which can incorrectly imply a basic yes-or-no outcome. A study should show you how you can effectively move forward with the campaign, rather than simply if you can.

Truly helpful campaign planning studies go beyond industry standards, offering a roadmap to achieving ambitious goals and transformational giving for your nonprofit. Jump ahead to learn more about our methodology and team of fundraising experts.

What does a feasibility study entail?

When you undertake a feasibility or planning study, expect to encounter these activities and steps:

  • Researching your current major donor prospect pipeline
  • Assessing your organization’s fundraising capacity and preliminary campaign plan
  • Interviewing various stakeholders to discuss their impressions of your organization and the need for a major campaign
  • Analyzing all findings to compare readiness and perception to the campaign plan
  • Developing recommended next steps and strategic adjustments

This process will give you an accurate picture of your organization’s strengths and abilities, as well as measure the likelihood of support from key stakeholders and the broader community.

Because a feasibility study touches on so many aspects of your organization and requires impartial analysis, most nonprofits traditionally work with third-party experts to conduct their feasibility studies.

Who should be interviewed in a campaign planning study?

Stakeholder interviews are a key part of a planning study, and they’re extremely helpful. These interviews typically include:

  • Major donors and prospects
  • Board members
  • Key leaders, staff members, and volunteers
  • Other community partners, sponsors, and funders

Remember, the success of a major fundraising campaign hinges on both financial support from your nonprofit’s stakeholders and their general buy-in on the need for the campaign at all. These are all-hands-on-deck undertakings. You need to be sure that your community understands and is energized by your nonprofit’s vision for growth.

Why Nonprofits Hire Fundraising Consultants to Conduct Feasibility Studies

Nonprofits traditionally hire third-party fundraising consultants to conduct campaign feasibility studies. This tried-and-true approach brings a few key benefits:

  • First, and most importantly, consultants bring expertise from years of planning nonprofit capital campaigns of all shapes and sizes. They’ll analyze the study’s findings, recall past insights from similar situations, and develop thoughtful, custom recommendations for your unique nonprofit.
  • As third parties, consultants provide an impartial perspective to the process. Stakeholders may be willing to offer more candid thoughts to a consultant than they would if you conduct interviews yourself. A consultant can also take an objective view of your full capacity and readiness, giving you invaluable insights you might not have gleaned yourself.
  • Consultants also greatly simplify the process of conducting a study. After all, planning studies compile insights from diverse sources. Gathering this information, coordinating and conducting interviews, and acting on all this information will eat up your team’s energy during a time when there are many other important priorities.

Whether you partner with a consultant for just their planning study services or choose to continue your partnership for ongoing campaign support, securing professional guidance is a smart choice. Capital campaigns are major investments of your nonprofit’s time and resources—outside expertise, perspectives, and logistical help will safeguard that investment.

Initial Steps Before Working with a Consultant

There are a few important first steps you must complete before soliciting support from a fundraising consultant for your feasibility study. Answer these questions before researching potential partners for your study:

Key questions to answer before conducting a campaign planning study, detailed in the text below

  • Why are we planning a campaign? What are its specific objectives?
  • What’s the financial goal that will accomplish those objectives?
  • What positive impacts will success have on our ability to serve constituents?
  • What’s the current state of our major donor prospect pipeline?
  • What is our current mix of revenue sources?
  • Who are our key external partners and funders that we’ll rely on during the campaign?

Having an initial vision for your campaign and its success is essential before working with a consultant. You can hire a third party to help you plan the preliminaries, conduct the feasibility study, and lay out a finalized strategy, but you have to take the first step.

Remember, successful campaigns are led with vision. Concrete, impactful reasons for conducting a campaign are prerequisites for success. A consultant’s recommendations serve to help you improve and flesh out that vision.

Learn more about Graham-Pelton's custom feasibility study services.

5 Steps of Conducting a Campaign Feasibility Study

Once you determine that it’s time to conduct a planning study and contract a fundraising consultant to help, what next? What specific steps can you expect from the process? Let’s take a look:

These five steps will help you conduct your own campaign feasibility study.

1. Get clear on your messaging

To convince donors to offer their support, every fundraising campaign, regardless of its size, must tell a compelling story. Why should donors care about supporting your mission or your vision? What problem will your organization solve? How will their philanthropy drive real-world impact?

You’ll answer these questions and tell your unique story in your case for support, the seeds of which take root during your planning study.

Start with a preliminary case for support that you’ll test with stakeholders and potential donors to gauge the feasibility of your campaign plan. This guiding set of ideas should include a few key points:

  • Your vision for where your organization is headed
  • Your priorities and goals for the campaign
  • How accomplishing the campaign goals will push your vision forward
  • The impact your organization has had in the past
  • The tangible impacts that donations to your campaign will have on constituents and the community
  • The problem that your organization works to solve and why it’s urgent
  • The reasons why your organization is best positioned to solve this problem

Aim for impactful and focused messaging at this early stage, but remember that the overarching purpose of the campaign planning study is to reveal ways that your approach can be refined and adjusted. Cases for support are living documents that can evolve as your campaign plan comes into focus.

2. Engage internal and external stakeholders

Once you have a case for support to test, begin assessing varied perspectives from key supporters. This stage of feedback collection will often consist of a mix of two approaches:

  • One-on-one discussions with key leaders, potential major donors, and other stakeholders to collect qualitative thoughts and input on the campaign plan.
  • Surveys that are distributed among broader segments of the community to test the impact of your messaging as distilled in your case for support.

In both cases, the point is to collect unbiased feedback on your campaign plans and generate buy-in along the way. What do your various audiences think about your goal, plans, and message? Their answers will help you shape your messaging and approach for maximum impact.

This is the stage where an unbiased third party is most helpful for facilitating open, candid discussions. Consultants also bring the expertise and broader industry perspective that your team may lack, resulting in more comprehensive and enlightening survey results.

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3. Perform in-depth prospect research and data analysis

Next, dig deeper into your prospect and fundraising data to guide refinements to your plans and goals. This involves studying your existing pool of major and mid-level donors, measuring their potential support, and identifying new prospects as needed.

This step will influence your campaign goal more than any other, so it is critical to have confidence that the findings from your research are accurate and vetted. It is at this time that you’ll determine if you have the necessary financial support for your campaign’s current goals and get a head start on developing an engagement and solicitation playbook for later in the campaign.

Outside counsel can play an important role here by providing data that’s not publicly available. Instead, organized prospect research during a study can include prospect tiering, data modeling, and predictive analytics. New technology is constantly emerging, like AI, and the right partner will connect you with these tools in support of your campaign planning.

4. Get your house in order

Once you understand how stakeholders view your organization and the financial capacity that exists within your database, it is time to examine your existing development operations.

An internal readiness assessment will review your staff and volunteer resources, existing fundraising capacity and capital, and the philanthropic landscape.

This in-depth look at your organization’s current abilities will reveal gaps that should be addressed to set your campaign up for success. For example, you may find that staff retention, training, technology, or other investments will be important for reaching your campaign goals and should be taken into account in your strategy.

If you seek outside support for this step, it’s important to consider your sector. Consultants experienced in your sector will bring the most relevant insights to the table. For instance, a hospital planning a major campaign would most benefit from support from a partner well-versed in grateful patient fundraising best practices.

By the end of this step, you’ll have a 360-degree view that allows you to approach your campaign as well-informed as possible.

5. Report the findings and make a plan of action

The findings of your study will identify how your organization can move forward to successfully execute your fundraising campaign in one of several ways—we’ll discuss possible outcomes below.

When working with professional counsel, the study’s findings will be clearly presented to you, with your next steps identified.

Whether or not you immediately move forward with your campaign, this last step in your study is a crucial part of ensuring success. Use this report to proceed to the next steps in campaign planning or address the concerns highlighted in the findings before moving forward.

Learn more about Graham-Pelton's custom feasibility study services.

The Outcomes of an Effective Campaign Feasibility Study

The final report from your consultant is the ultimate deliverable for your planning study, but what does this report help you actually accomplish? What are its potential recommendations and implications for your capital campaign?

An effective campaign study gives you a refined plan for your campaign and a better understanding of your organization’s readiness, stakeholder relationships, and any points of feedback. The specific recommendations you receive may fall into one of these rough categories:

  • Move ahead with your plan as-is without major changes to its goals
  • Adjust the campaign’s financial goal up, if the study revealed a surprising buzz of excitement and buy-in among prospects
  • Adjust the campaign’s financial goal down, if the study revealed fundraising, relationship, or logistical constraints that would make reaching your initial goal unlikely or greatly inflate the campaign’s overhead

Your consultant’s recommendations should pinpoint specific adjustments to make to your plan to support any changes to the campaign’s goal. In cases where a decrease to the campaign’s scope is recommended, your fundraising consultant will likely outline ways to further enhance your fundraising capacity before proceeding with the campaign.

Ideally, the outcome of a feasibility study is never to cancel the campaign outright.

Pre-planning considerations, the process of defining your objectives, calculating a working goal, and taking stock of your current capacity, should give you an immediate sense of whether any campaign is possible right now. If you’re at this stage of the process, remember that capital campaigns should be planned with real, current needs in mind, not just to celebrate occasions.

Graham-Pelton’s Approach to Campaign Planning Studies

Our goal is to equip your nonprofit with the insights and 360-degree view it needs to plan a truly transformative campaign, whatever that means for your unique mission.

We take the five basic steps outlined above and elevate them through tailored recommendations, insightful deliverables, and a superior experience. Our team of nonprofit experts can help with every facet of the process, including:

  • Internal readiness assessments
  • Case for support development
  • Prospect research, wealth screenings, and data analytics
  • Stakeholder interviews and donor relations support
  • Actionable, expert-produced campaign recommendations

Halfway through your campaign planning study, you’ll also receive an Interim Report of progress and emerging themes. This gives you early insights into the interests and motivations of your stakeholders for immediate next steps and cultivation calls before your study is even complete.

After delivering your Final Report, Graham-Pelton can continue to support your campaign by implementing the next steps and taking advantage of the study’s momentum.

The fundraising experts at Graham-Pelton can give your nonprofit everything it needs to succeed with its next capital campaign.

Learn more about our planning studies, and please get in touch if you have any questions.

Want to discover more capital campaign and development best practices? Check out these recommended resources from the Graham-Pelton team:

Graham-Pelton's experts can help you conduct a feasibility study that prepares you for capital campaign success.