Guest Post by Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE
“If we build it, they will come.”
This is the mantra of many nonprofit organizations who decide to embark on a capital campaign for new or improved facilities to meet current and future needs. The mantra they should be saying, “If we build it, who will pay?”
I’m surprised by how many nonprofits believe the “if-we-build-it” philosophy with little or no evidence to support this rationale. I’m even more surprised by how many nonprofit Boards launch a campaign without any meaningful testing of donor and community interest, little or no campaign planning, no stable fundraising program in place, and few if any donors already giving to the organization. This is a recipe for disaster.
Avoid This Recipe for Capital Campaign Disaster
Successful campaigns are close to impossible without a pool of donors who already know and support the organization and would be willing to give at higher levels. Many Board members don’t recognize the long-term damage of a failed campaign.
Despite years of success, a failed fundraising campaign can become a black mark on the organization’s image and undermine donor and community confidence in the organization for years to come. Interestingly, this failure rarely has a negative impact on Board members who go on to serve on other Boards with no lasting consequences.
To avoid these problems, Boards of Directors and CEOs should give careful consideration to the planning of a capital campaign and take time to gauge donor and community interest.
Conduct a Philanthropic Feasibility Study
A philanthropic Feasibility Study is an objective summary conducted by an outside consultant that assesses the likelihood of success for a fundraising project, and identifies strategies and specific individual givers for the campaign.
A feasibility study:
- includes one-on-one interviews with stake-holders and community leaders to collect candid answers and
- provides valuable feedback to the organization on the prospects for implementing a major fundraising campaign, and
- assesses the organization’s internal capacity to mount a successful campaign and the long-term costs of operating a new, expanded facility.
In my experience, feasibility studies produce vital information that can lead to successful campaigns or delay campaigns to strengthen the likelihood of future success. Both outcomes have tremendous value to the organization and make studies worth the investment of time and money. By taking this important step, Boards help ensure that if you build it, you can pay for it now and in the future.
Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE is President of Stansbury Consulting LLC, a leading fundraising consulting firm based in Tallahassee Florida, co-author of a weekly newspaper column called “Notes on Nonprofits”, and a 25-year fundraising veteran. Alyce Lee serves as adjunct faculty at Florida State University where she teaches a graduate course in fundraising. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.