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The Feasibility Study: It’s All About the Interview

Resource Center - Foundation

(Nov. 1, 2011) A conversation with an important donor can uncover much more than just his or her interest in supporting a capital campaign. Here are some tips on making the most of an interview.

“A well-conducted interview with a prospective donor can serve as an important barometer for how your organization is doing and guide the campaign itself,” says Martha H. Schumacher, ACFRE, president of Hazen Inc. in Washington, D.C. “The feasibility study interview is an extremely powerful engagement, enrichment and stewardship tool,” she explains. “These interviews are a platform for the much bigger picture. With a healthy dose of active listening, you can learn how your organization is perceived in the eyes of others and create a stronger and more philanthropist-friendly case for support. The study outcomes can even help you to better clarify your overarching organizational mission.”

Conducting a Good Interview

In the book The Fundraising Feasibility Study: It’s Not About the Money, S. Sanae Tokumura, APR, ACFRE, says when it comes to getting a lot from an interview, you need to send the right person in for the job and assure he or she is prepared. 

“It goes without saying,” she says, “that if your interviewer is a bad conversationalist, has no idea what your organization’s history has been and where it wants to go and has a bad list of topics to discuss … you will most likely get minimal or even faulty information after all of that questionable data is aggregated. Before investing in the time-consuming acts of data compilation and earnest interpretation, make sure that the conversation guide is sound, that the interviewer is personable and objective (preferably completely unrelated to the organization), armed with a solid case for support and has memorized facts about the organization and its programs.”

The interviewer needs to be thorough and take good notes, even if some of the comments from donors seem to be repeated from interview to interview.

“Those of us conducting interviews should remain diligent to recording precisely what is represented, 100 percent, to the last subject discussed and take absolutely nothing for granted.”

Valuable Feedback

According to Betty Ann Copley Harris, FAHP, who also contributed to the book The Fundraising Feasibility Study, at the close of the interview ideally you want your feasibility study participants to do the following:

  • Know more about your organization after the meeting than they did before.
  • Tell you where your organization fits on their list of philanthropic priorities.
  • Offer important clues as to what it would take to elevate the position of your organization among their top three charitable interests.
  • Have heightened interest in the work of your organization.
  • Offer constructive advice about the case for support and how it can be improved.
  • Be eager to become more involved and possibly serve as a campaign volunteer.
  • Offer the names of other philanthropists who might be interested in supporting your campaign.
  • Be willing to attend information sessions offered in the months ahead.
  • Offer to host a cultivation reception in their home to introduce your organization to their circle of friends.
  • Anticipate making a generous gift to your campaign.

In a feasibility study interview, you will provide a chart with giving ranges as opposed to making a more specific “ask”, which will set the stage and spark interest with the donor in making a philanthropic investment. Beyond the money itself, as shown in the points above, the feedback you get can be even more valuable.

“We have a pre-conceived notion about the merits and value of our nonprofits, though they often don’t match what your top philanthropic partners really think about your organization,” Schumacher explains. “Knowing your key stakeholders’ perceptions and why they hold certain points of view is extremely important - for the capital campaign and for your nonprofit’s overall success. That is why maximizing the feasibility process is so valuable to the long-term health of your organization.”

For more information, be sure to attend the session at the AFP International Conference on Fundraising, April 1-3, 2012, in Vancouver, BC, titled, ”Feasibility Study Best Practices:  Interviews and Gift Charts and Case Statements – Oh My!” presented by Lynn Croneberger, CFRE, former vice president for development at Reading Is Fundamental, and Martha H. Schumacher, ACFRE, President, Hazen Inc.

The Fundraising Feasibility Study: It’s Not About the Money, edited by Martin L. Novom, CFRE, is available in the AFP Bookstore.

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