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Tips from Members: The Planning Study Process

When considering a capital or endowment campaign, a major undertaking for most organizations, there are two things that need to be done in order to determine the likely success of a campaign: an internal assessment of the organization's readiness and an external assessment of the willingness and ability of the organization's constituency to support the campaign. This week, I will focus on the internal assessment aspect. Next week, I will discuss the external aspect.

The planning study, sometimes referred to as a feasibility study, is the most common way to determine both internal and external readiness for a major project. Today, most firms use the term 'planning study' because the goal is not just to determine the feasibility of doing the project, but to help the organization develop a plan that will strengthen their organization overall while preparing to launch a major campaign.

Often, the project is going to be done, whether funded through a campaign or not, so the feasibility of the project is not the question. Another reason why many prefer the term 'planning study' is so that the process is not confused with the architectural feasibility study.

Internal Readiness

If the nonprofit has never done a capital campaign before, a full development audit is recommended before doing the external assessment. Even if the agency is 'seasoned' in campaigning, a full development audit can still be beneficial. Internal readiness should always be considered first, before testing the campaign with the public. Sometimes a full-blown audit is not needed, or time will not allow for this process. However, the internal readiness still needs to be considered in the planning study. Some key internal readiness questions are:

Organizational Issues

  • Is the organization a 501(c) (3) charitable organization?
  • Is the organization registered with the states in which fundraising will be done, if those states require registration?
  • Are the organization's programs needed and valued by the community?
  • Is there a strategic plan in place?

Human Resource Issues

  • Is the CEO well known and respected in the community and willing to spend a good part of his/her time on the campaign?
  • Is there a strong corps of fundraising volunteers?
  • Does the staff have experience in running a campaign?
  • Is there adequate support staff?

Board Issues

  • Does the board of directors fully support the proposed campaign?
  • Is there a strong core of board members who will support the campaign both financially and with their time?
  • Is the board well known and respected in the community?
  • Are there people of affluence and influence on the board?
  • Is the board diverse?
  • Do Board members understand the importance of their role in a campaign?
  • Is there an active development committee?

Constituency Issues

  • Can the top 10 donors and the top 100 donors be easily identified?
  • Does the organization communicate regularly with all its constituents?
  • Are constituents aware of the organization and its programs?

Infrastructure Issues

  • Is there a donor database system in place that allows segmentation of donors and personalized appeals?
  • Is the system capable of recording multi-year pledges and planned gifts as well as matching gifts?
  • Does the database system have the ability to generate campaign reports?
  • Are there policies and procedures in place for accepting, recording and acknowledging gifts?

Click here for Part Two of 'The Planning Study Process' - External Readiness

Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE, is president and CEO of Capital Venture, a fundraising consulting firm with offices in Nevada and Pennsylvania. Lysakowski works nationally and is an internationally known presenter and trainer. She is the author of the AFP Ready Reference guide "Establishing Your Development Office" and co-authored the AFP Ready Reference guide to "Getting Ready for a Capital Campaign".

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