What is the best way for a nonprofit to launch a capital campaign?

Nancy Dunleavy

By Nancy Dunleavy

If you’re an astronaut, you know you’re ready to launch when NASA announces, “All systems go!”

If you’re Kung Fu fan, you know it is time for the student to launch when he can take a pebble from the hand of Master Kan.

But if you’re a leader in a nonprofit organization, only a feasibility study can tell you when you are ready to launch a capital campaign.

Feasibility studies are designed to determine your organization’s readiness and the probability of achieving the campaign goals. They typically take between three and six months because they involve surveying employees, board members, volunteers, and potential donors.

For a nonprofit planning its first capital campaign, a feasibility study is essential. Among the many potential pitfalls to be identified and addressed are insufficiencies in staffing levels, board support, volunteer capabilities, and donor commitment.

Successfully completing a capital campaign requires an entirely different kind of fundraising than nonprofits use to solicit typical annual donations. In most cases, you'll be asking for larger sums of money. So you need to determine if your supporters are willing and able to give more. Savvy donors may well ask if a feasibility study has been done before making a large donation.

Having successfully completed a previous capital campaign does not ensure that a new campaign will achieve its goals. You may be more confident in your ability to raise funds because of your past experience, but a new feasibility study will offer current insights that will enable you to better plan for a new set of circumstances. For example, you may learn that the market is not as strong as it was, and it would be best to adjust your aspirations and/or implement the campaign in phases, starting with a smaller goal and increasing it over time.

Communicating with prospective donors during the feasibility study can also garner new ideas for achieving campaign goals. For example, donors who will be asked to support construction of a building, such as a community center, might reveal that they would be more likely to donate if certain facilities were included, such as a basketball court or swimming pool.

Finally, feasibility studies should be conducted by an outside company or consultant, to ensure candid responses. Donors and prospects are unlikely to be completely forthcoming when someone on the staff or board of a nonprofit asks them about their level of commitment. Dunleavy & Associates has performed dozens of feasibility studies that have helped nonprofit organizations launch successful capital campaigns.

About the author: Nancy Dunleavy is the President and CEO of Dunleavy & Associates, which she founded in 2001. Chair of Gwynedd Mercy University Board of Trustees, Nancy also serves on the Board of Directors of The Union League of Philadelphia, and is Treasurer of Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board.  She is a popular public speaker and has received numerous accolades for her work and leadership, but most prides herself on being an “extraordinary talent scout” in recruiting phenomenal clients, colleagues, and collaborators.