I am a strong believer in feasibility studies when a nonprofit is considering launching a capital or major gift campaign. They are also appropriate for organizations launching initial development efforts.
One of my clients, New Village Arts Theatre (NVA) in Carlsbad, wanted to raise $1,700,000 through a building campaign. The City of Carlsbad, owners of NVA’s building, agreed to invest up to $1,500,000 to completely renovate the buildings’ exterior and provide the Theatre with a continuing 10-year lease. Renovations would include a new glass entrance into the lobby, streetscaping, additional lobby space for patrons, a glass façade, and easily visible signage to guide patrons. New Village Arts had agreed that, in exchange for the City’s investment, New Village Arts would begin paying $48,000 per year in rent upon the completion of construction (vs. their $2/year current lease). The Theatre planned to launch The Campaign for New Village Arts: Creating the Future to build a sustainability fund that will not only support these increased facility costs, but build a fund to secure the long-term future of New Village Arts.
I was hired to conduct the feasibility study on this campaign. The reason for a feasibility study is to determine the feasibility of a capital or major gift campaign or can we do it? Feasibility studies can be big or small depending on the organization size.
A feasibility study provides an opportunity for me to speak with all the key stakeholders in the organization about the campaign and gain their candid responses. I am investigating if everyone is “on board” with the idea, if the fundraising goal is doable, if they will personally give and if they are willing to engage their friends in the campaign.
For New Village Arts, I embarked on a 90-day feasibility study:
- The first step of the feasibility study is to gather data. (45 days)
- The second step is to analyze the data and develop a results report. (15 days)
- The third step is to create a plan from the results of the data. (30 days)
With the Theatre staff, we assembled an initial statement of need that outlined the key components of the campaign. We distributed the statement of need to key stakeholders including Board of Directors, donors, volunteers, and staff so they would know what NVA what attempting to accomplish through this campaign. I met individually with the key stakeholders and asked them questions about the potential campaign. I recorded feedback from each person so that I could produce a report of the findings. During the feasibility study process, I also conducted a prospect rating and evaluation (i.e. identify potential sources of funding and the amounts of potential funding) with my client to figure out if they have enough potential donors (3 donors for every 1 gift) to achieve their financial goals.
Based on analysis of interview surveys and evaluation of current fundraising activities, I developed a formal results and recommendations report.
Results look like this:
- 84% of the respondents understand the Theatre’s need to raise funds to support the renovation and growth of the Theatre.
- 52% will personally give to the campaign (23% perhaps).
- The majority (68%) of respondents agreed that the institutional leadership of the Theatre would fully commit time and energy to this campaign.
- Through the prospect rating analysis, it was determined that there was approximately $320,000 worth of potential donations from NVA’s current supporters.
Sometimes that data comes back positive and affirms the campaign’s focus and goals and sometimes it does not.
In the case of NVA, the feasibility study findings concluded that:
- $1,700,000 was not feasible to raise with the Theatre’s constituency
- The timeline was not feasible to raise a large sum of money
- The focus of the campaign was not appealing to the Theatre’s constituency, therefore the campaign is not feasible
- Patrons would be interested in supporting a campaign that builds the future of NVA, and supported programs.
With these findings, the NVA Board and executive staff decided to:
- Lessen the total campaign goal to $500,000-750,000
- Extend the campaign fundraising timeline to at least three years (pledges can be paid over 5 years)
- Refocus the campaign on building a sustainability fund (i.e. Artist’s Fund)
Create a Plan
With new goals in place (or the current goals affirmed through the study), a plan is created to operate the campaign. The plan lays out each step of the campaign and provides tools for the client to use in fundraising. I work with the staff to develop cultivation and solicitation strategies. We also create staff and volunteer roles within major gift campaign. I also develop a campaign timeline and write a preliminary draft of Case for Support.
With NVA, we were able to come up with a strong campaign plan based on the new goals.
Tools include documents like:
I recently spoke with Alex Scollon, Managing Director for NVA, and he updated me on the progress of their campaign and their proposed amendments to the plan.
- NVA to work with City of Carlsbad to renovate the exterior of the building, with the goal to unveil the new façade with the opening of the final play of season 11 a world primer guaranteed to garner national attention for the theatre and Carlsbad, while maintaining an ongoing $1 a year lease.
- Simultaneously NVA will use the excitement of the renovation and the research provided by the consultant to raise a sustainability fund of $500,000 to ensure the Theatre will be fiscally stable for years to come and continue to increase the quality and quantity of programs it produces over the next 10 years.
- Unlike in neighboring city such as Vista and Escondido where the city government pays substantial funds to operation of the performing arts center ($3.1 and $6 million respectively each year) NVA does not now nor ever plan to ask for ongoing operating support. The funds dedicated to this project are one-time capital investments in the Village and the Theatre.