By: Marion Lee, CFRE
For many nonprofit organizations, a feasibility study is a huge leap into the unknown. An organization may never have attempted a major fundraising campaign for construction or endowment, or many years have passed since the last campaign. As noted in Karen Kegg’s article, feasibility studies surface information beneficial to the organization, but what do you do next?
Once a study is complete, the Board and staff should take time to assimilate the information. Often, the urge to press forward on a capital campaign is great, and leadership does not take the time to examine the report in detail. The feasibility study is designed to give the organization feedback on the community’s perception of their communications, relationship with donors, leadership, and value of specific programs.
Next, leadership should take a detailed look at the organization’s financial position, both current and future (2 years at least). Board and staff should ask: At what point in the fundraising, calculating gifts and pledges, do we begin construction? Do we have funds in reserves to bridge the organization through beginning construction while pledges are paid out? What impact will the campaign have on annual operating funds? Can we obtain a construction or bridge loan? And finally, how are we going to manage the capital funds as they begin to flow into the organization?
Timelines. Timelines are the next step and the one that always surprise the Board and staff. It takes more time than any of us realize, unless you are in some area of construction, to complete a project. Architect, permits, drawings, survey, construction bid process take months to complete. The fundraising and pledge payments pace alongside with the construction process and must be monitored carefully.
Most critical in the steps leading toward groundbreaking is the creation of a construction or facility oversight committee. Thought I was going to say fundraising committee, didn’t you? The campaign committee is dearly important but of equal importance is a committee, preferably led by a Board member who has the responsibility of meeting with the architects, overseeing the bid process, possibly hiring a project manager to support them, reporting to the Board and minding the project to completion. This is a back-breaking, time consuming, finger-nail biting job every bit as important and cliff hanging as the fundraising and just as essential. If the organization does not have staff or Board members skilled in construction processes, this is the time to recruit some non-Board volunteers.
In “To a Mouse” Robert Burns writes: “the best-laid schemes o’Mice an’ Men gang aft agley” a rather bleak outlook on a Mouse’s capital endeavor to which we would answer back “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail,”