When NOT to Conduct a Campaign Planning Study

Does A Careful Campaign Planning Study Always Lead to Greater Success?

If a nonprofit executive tells a consultant they want to launch a capital campaign, the consultant will first recommend a study, right?

Best practices in fund-raising management point to the importance of and the need for a campaign planning study (a.k.a. feasibility study). In fact, the donor marketplace also places great importance on planning studies as many corporate and community foundations in major metropolitan areas now require proof of a study before accepting a grant request. So, is the planning study always the first step toward a successful capital campaign?

We have faced, on occasion, the awkward task of informing some nonprofit executives that their organization is not prepared to conduct a planning study simply because they are not in a position to achieve their stated funding goals.

The internal perspective of your organization can be clouded by the desire for more funding to solve persistent organizational problems. Unfortunately, more money does not always solve every organization’s problems. The most successful and well-managed organizations raise much more money. Before conducting a campaign planing study, your governing board and administration should complete an honest self-assessment. Do the essential elements of a successful capital campaign sufficiently exist? Or, is the desire for more funding pushing your leadership to cut a few corners?

Over the years, we’ve noticed a pattern: organizations that are more on the ball and are closer to launching a successful campaign are the institutions that really want to conduct a study. They recognize the value of an externally based critical analysis of the organization and its plans for the future. They recognize the importance of success, and the value of carefully building capacity to achieve their full fund-raising potential through a capital campaign. A well conceived and expertly conducted planning study can provide instrumental and influential information about your plans, including whether:

  • your organization meets a compelling community need in an effective and efficient way, and if there is a stable and/or increasing demand for services;
  • your organization demonstrates financial and programmatic stability that indicates an ability to sustain and grow quality programs and services;
  • your board is regarded for its effective leadership in fundraising and governance; and,
  • your proposed project represents an opportunity for broad, demonstrable community benefit and donor involvement.

A campaign planning study provides an organization with an invaluable opportunity to conduct an objective donor- and community-based assessment of its mission, image, leadership, and programs. Perhaps most important, a study also indicates how an organization aligns as a philanthropic opportunity for investment, relative to other nonprofits.

Finally, a well-conducted campaign study — based on a representative number of confidential one-on-one interviews with key stakeholders and thought leaders — is not designed to provide nonprofit leaders with “what they want to hear.” Rather, it should provide focused findings and actionable recommendations that, if followed, will greatly strengthen an organization’s ability to succeed with a major campaign.


Click here for pdf version: FRM55

For more on The Campaign Planning Study, Foundation of a Successful Campaign, access Goettler Series Volume 2