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Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE

About Linda

Capital Campaign Planning Study—External Assessment (Part 7)

This is Part 7 of a series I'm writing on capital campaign readiness. In Part 6 we talked about how internal readiness is assessed during a study. In this installment we'll discuss how the external readiness for a campaign is assessed.

In a Nutshell

This is Part 7 of a multiweek series on capital campaigns by Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE. In today's installment, Linda discusses how the external readiness for a capital campaign is assessed.

Prior installments:

  • In Part 1, Linda launched the series with the basic questions, What is a capital campaign, and when do you need one?
  • In Part 2, she discussed the infrastructure needs for a capital campaign.
  • In  Part 3, she discussed human resources needed to support your campaign.
  • In Part 4, Linda introduced the topic of developing your case for support and went deeper into the case statements in Part 5.
  • In Part 6, she looked at how internal readiness is assessed during a study.

Linda is the author of two popular books on capital campaigns published by CharityChannel Press, Are You Ready for a Capital Campaign? Assessing Your Nonprofit's Ability to Run a Major Fundraising Campaign and Capital Campaigns: Everything You NEED to Know.

The Capital Campaign Planning Study—External Assessment

Once your organization has determined it is internally ready to run a capital campaign the next step is doing an external assessment of whether the community is willing and able to support your project.

The capital campaign planning study is the most common way organizations assess their community ability and willingness to support their campaign. Sometime called the feasibility study, the planning study helps the organization determine if the key factors for success are present—sufficient leadership gifts, key community leaders willing to serve in leadership roles in the campaign, and a compelling case for support.

The Role of Outside Counsel

The study should always be done by outside counsel. Interviewees will generally be reluctant to speak frankly to a representative of the organization about its case. Also, a professional experienced in studies will need to analyze the data and provide objective recommendations. Organizations who have a limited budget should consider outside counsel for the study, even if they feel they could run the campaign themselves.

Once a consultant is engaged to do the study, that consultant will work with you to determine who the key players are that will be interviewed during the study. In most cases, anywhere from thirty-five to fifty people will be interviewed. Sometimes it will be necessary to interview more people due to the size or scope of the campaign. Occasionally a study will involve fewer interviews if there is a very small goal. Interviewing the right people is more important than the number of interviews. Generally a list of about 75 to 100 people is developed by the staff and then the consultant and the steering committee will review that list and sort the names by categories A, B, and C, with the A list being those who it is essential to interview, the B list those who should be interviewed, and the C list those who could be interviewed.

Some categories of people who should be interviewed include:

  • Top donors to the organization
  • Potential major donors for the organization
  • Key board members
  • Key staff people
  • Community leaders
  • Key volunteers
  • Political leaders, especially if it is anticipated that there will be government support of the project

Once the list of interviewees has been developed, letters are sent first to the A List, and then interviews are scheduled with those people. These are followed by the B list and then the C list, if necessary, to complete the number of interviews needed. Be aware, however, that this list is fluid. Often during the interview process, new names will surface that had not been on any of the previous lists, but have been identified by interviewees as someone that would have the interest and ability to make a major gift to the campaign.

Interviews may be scheduled by the organization or by the consultant, depending on the terms of the contract. It is generally best to have a person who has some familiarity and influence with the interviewee schedule the interview. This is often the most challenging part of the process—getting the interview. While most major donors and community leaders are familiar with the process and usually agree to interviews, it is sometimes difficult to get onto their busy schedules.

The person scheduling the interview needs to be creative and persistent in making calls, sometimes calling early in the morning before the “gatekeeper” answers the phone works, or if the organization has access to the person’s cell number, this can also be effective.

Once the interview is scheduled, a confirmation letter is generally sent along with the preliminary case statement so the interviewee has an opportunity to become familiar with the case before the consultant arrives for the interview. In general consultants will want to interview people in their own home or office, as there are often clues about the person’s ability and interests in their surroundings. And most people more likely to talk more freely when they feel they are in control of the situation.

During the interviews, the consultant will be asking interviewees their opinion on the organization itself, the strength of the case, their propensity to make a major gift, their willingness to serve in a leadership role in the campaign, and their suggestions for other donors and/or volunteers to the campaign.

The consultants will then prepare a report for your organization’s leadership outlining the qualitative and quantitative responses to the questions asked, and their recommendation for moving forward with a campaign or not, along with a proposed time schedule for the campaign. If the consultant recommends that you are is not ready for a campaign, the firm will provide recommendations on what you need to do to better prepare for a campaign.


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