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Fundraising Fundamentals, Section 2.3

HEFCE

Commissioning a Feasibility Study

Feasibility studies are most often used in two typical scenarios:

  • As a general consultancy, to receive advice on fundraising operations and to determine how an institution should embrace development-related advancement activities (generally during the start-up phase). In this scenario, the study would look at the internal readiness of the institution, the potential of the external environment within which the institution is operating and the resources and steps needed to begin a successful advancement activity.
  • For established development or advancement offices that want to embark on major new campaigns. In this case, the study would assess the volume of donors and prospects prepared to support an institution around a particular focus.
Whom Should the Study Involve?

Leadership
In either scenario, the feasibility study ideally should be led by someone who can take a largely objective view. That person is commonly a professional consultant, but it might also be a member of staff without direct involvement in the area or a lay member of the institution’s governing body.

Whoever conducts the study needs to have the skills to extract and analyse the right information. Those skills would include:

  • Diplomacy,
  • Insightfulness,
  • Good business acumen and/or knowledge of fundraising,
  • An ability to analyse complex information,
  • Strategic thinking skills and
  • The ability to represent information in a way that is useful and accessible.

Other Key Stakeholders
The person leading the feasibility study may need to talk with senior staff, academics, students, alumni, existing external partners, existing donors and/or other potential funders to understand their prevailing attitudes around development activities, the resources that might already exist or the potential support for a campaign (depending on the focus of the study). The study leader might also seek to speak with peer institutions that already have a functional development office.

When Should the Study Take Place?

Feasibility studies seeking general advice on fundraising operations during the start-up phase are designed to inform the strategic thinking of an institution and should be conducted as early as possible in the set-up process (ideally before formal activity has commenced).

Studies focused on new campaigns should also be conducted well in advance of any formal activity, as they can take several weeks to complete and be considered by an institution. A typical time span is three to six months.

What Should It Look At?

Depending on the purpose of the feasibility study, it should:

  • Assess where you already are in the spectrum of advancement activity. Do you have the raw materials to support this activity? Do you have some pre-existing activity? Is the mindset of the institution receptive to embracing development-related advancement activity?
  • Begin to articulate the case for support. What are the strategic goals for the institution or campaign and what does it need to achieve them? What are the institution’s strengths and unique qualities? Why should people invest in the institution or this specific campaign? What can be achieved?
  • Speak to a selection of external stakeholders and gauge their response to the draft case for support. Does it reflect their perceptions of the institution? Does it inspire them? Does it reflect their aims and objectives? Would they support the cause as it is described?
  • Describe the first steps, based on the information it has gathered, that the institution should take toward establishing a successful development office or launching a successful campaign. On what scale? Where is investment best made? How much might the institution realistically hope to raise? Who should be first to be recruited? What projects have the highest chance of success and with what mix of funders?
The Added Benefits

Feasibility studies can be expensive but they have several benefits, such as:

  • Providing the institution with a roadmap,
  • Engaging internal and external stakeholders in the process (and potentially stimulating culture change),
  • Helping to channel investment where it is most effective,
  • Educating potential funders and ‘planting the seed’ of awareness that they might be ‘asked’ in the future,
  • Assisting the institution to define projects that are ‘fundraising ready’,
  • Providing a touchstone for a newly appointed director of development,
  • Supporting the institution to develop realistic expectations and
  • Helping to influence and win the support of governing bodies, senior staff and academics.
Getting the Best Value for Money

Commissioning a feasibility study is costly, but you can reduce the costs by carefully developing a detailed scope and brief for whoever is leading the study.

  • First, ensure that the vision and strategic direction of the institution (or campaign) are well defined, as this is not in the scope of a feasibility study.
  • Next, have a clear idea of the kind of information you need to see in the study. Set clear boundaries of responsibility for the gathering of information. For example, the institution might undertake to provide detailed financial information and list of contacts who are happy to be interviewed for the study, thus saving the costs of some basic groundwork.
  • Then, agree a timetable with milestones based around deliverables that are realistic and useful. By doing this you can benefit from chunks of information throughout the process that may assist your strategic thinking rather than be overwhelmed at having to assimilate an entire report at the end of the study.

Action Items
  • Ensure that your institution is ready to embark on a feasibility study.
  • Determine the best time period (as early as possible before setting up or expanding a development office and/or launching a campaign).
  • Determine who will lead the feasibility study and the key stakeholders involved.
  • Create a detailed scope and brief including roles, responsibilities and deliverables.

You Might Also Want to Read:

Investing in the office
Using consultants
Reviewing the current situation
The case for support

Rowley describes the process by which his department built a campaign to focus their strategy.
Peters details why institutions should launch campaigns and make the investment with the right staff, as well as how to launch a feasibility study.