In this first of a four-part post, I’d like you to consider the merits of conducting campaign feasibility studies in a slightly different way—by using your own trained and experienced staff. Subsequent posts will add some detail to this introduction.
A feasibility study can play an important part in campaign preparations. In the past, organizations automatically turned to outside consultants to conduct such studies. In part, there was a sense of objectivity and confidentiality that came with the use of a third party between the institution and prospective campaign leaders and donors. However, it also resulted from limited major gifts experience and lack of professional development staff. As the profession grows and matures, both issues are less of a barrier than ever before.
Today, there are alternatives to the traditional approach. There are more development professionals employed now than in previous years, and many of these professionals have valuable experience that can be harnessed in campaign planning phases.
Feasibility study interviews are as much about cultivating the prospective donor as they are about ascertaining answers about the case and the individual’s giving interests. Therefore, in some cases, it is appropriate to maintain the relationship continuity of the major gifts field staff and their prospects/donors, rather than “inserting” an unknown third party (the consultant) for a single interview.
Conditions that warrant having outside counsel conduct the interviews include the following:
- Development staff has limited or no experience with major gifts.
- Known sensitivities exist around institutional leadership, making confidential interviews preferable.
- Demands of fundraising and other pressing work do not permit staff to invest the time to conduct interviews.
- Conditions that warrant having the development staff conduct feasibility interviews include the following:
- Mature development staff with prospect portfolio management responsibilities are available.
- There is strong relationship continuity between development staff and prospective campaign donors (also referred to as prospects or interviewees).
- Prospective campaign donors are weary of “one more feasibility study,” having participated in many, which eventually begin to resemble one another.
- Prospective campaign donors signal some objection to “experts” from “outside” coming in for a short period and then leaving.