Tips from Members: The Planning Study Process, Part Two
WASHINGTON (AFP eWire - Feb. 9, 2004) - When considering a capital or endowment campaign, organizations need to consider conducting both 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. Last week, I discussed the internal assessment aspect; this week I am focusing on the external assessment.
After the internal assessment, the next step in the planning study is assessing the readiness of the organization's constituents to support a campaign. In this part of the study, a fundraising consultant will help develop the case for support and identify potential interviewees. The consultant conducts the confidential interviews and will then report back to the organization with recommendations.
The basic question of whether or not the community would support the proposed campaign should be answered in the study report. The planning study not only addresses questions about the public awareness and support of the organization, but also helps determine a reasonable, attainable goal for the campaign and a realistic time frame. The planning study also assists in identifying and cultivating volunteer leadership and potential major donors to the campaign.
One of the first steps in the Planning Study is to develop a preliminary case for support, i.e., what is needed and why it is needed. The case should answer the following questions:
- Who is the organization and what does it do?
- Why does it exist?
- What is distinctive about the organization?
- What is it that the organization hopes to accomplish?
- How will this campaign enable it to be accomplished?
- How can the donor become involved?
While the preliminary case is being completed, the process of identifying the people who will be interviewed can begin. The planning study process usually requires between 35 and 60 interviews drawn from prospects for major individual, corporate, government and foundation gifts and grants. Interviewees should include present and past board members, major donors to the organization, key volunteers, key prospective donors and community leaders. The preliminary case statement is then 'tested' through this interview process. The study interviews will be done by outside counsel. The interviews are conducted one-on-one, in a confidential setting, and the comments reported back to the nonprofit anonymously.
Some typical questions asked in the study interviews include:
- What is your level of awareness of the organization?
- What is your level of understanding of the needs of the organization?
- Is this a campaign that you would support financially? If so, at what level?
- Would you be willing to serve in a leadership or other role in the campaign?
- Do you know others who would get involved with this project? At what level?
The results of a planning study will provide the nonprofit with the following:
- An analysis of the potential for successful capital fundraising
- A revised table of gifts, if needed
- A recommended overall dollar goal
- A suggested campaign timetable and budget
- Potential trouble spots
- The number and total dollar amount expected from potential donors
- A list of potential volunteers
Remember that a planning study may not always lead to a campaign. Even if the planning study recommends a need to wait, there is much that can be done to plan and prepare for a campaign in the future. The study may recommend among other things:
- Beefing up the annual fundraising effort
- Building corporate and foundation relationships
- Board development
- Increased public relations efforts
- Increasing or reassigning staff
- Strategic planning
- Volunteer development
Using the planning study effectively means that an organization must be willing to hear the truth and be ready to use the recommendations in the report to better prepare for a campaign.
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 a Development Office" and co-authored the AFP Ready Reference guide to "Getting Ready for a Capital Campaign".