If you build it, will they really come? The importance of a feasibility study for your school’s capital project

Article by Dave Marsh
AskRIGHT / 27 February 2020

After seeing a vision of a baseball field in his corn field, Kevin Costner’s character in the 1989 movie Field of Dreams goes ahead and builds his vision despite minimal planning, financial uncertainty, and dire warnings from family members. In the final scene of the movie, hundreds of cars approach the field, fulfilling his vision and the prophetic words, ‘if you built it, they will come’.

Going ahead with a capital project without testing its feasibility might work out in Hollywood, but rarely does it bring success in the real world. Your school may have a vision for a new sports hub or preforming arts centre, but is this vision shared by the board and prospective donors? What is the fundraising target, and, is it achievable?

A feasibility study is critical to the success of your school’s capital project. This article will discuss why you need to test the response of your community before you build by looking at the three elements needed to run a successful capital campaign and the role a feasibility study has in gauging to what extent these elements are present.

Consensus and urgency of need

It might appear obvious, but agreement by the school’s board on the project(s) to be funded by the campaign must be reached. Taking the time to discuss the concerns and comments of each member will strengthen the resolve of the board and facilitate ownership of the project. This helps individual board members to start thinking about their role in the project, what they can contribute, and how they can leverage their network in achieving it. Once consensus has been achieved, a feasibility study determines if the school has the internal readiness to implement the campaign and tests the project’s case for support. Validating the case for support through seeking feedback and measuring donor’s understanding of the project is vital. The campaign also needs to be recognised as a priority for the school with the board and senior leadership team allocating the time and resources needed for a successful outcome.

Leadership, adequate sources of support, and giving potential

A lead gift between 10% to 20% of the fundraising goal is often a prerequisite for a campaign’s success and the top 10 gifts should account for between 45% to 50%. You may be in a position of already knowing donors capable and enthusiastic to give significant gifts to the campaign, but, most likely, your school will have to identify and qualify these prospects. A feasibility study identifies donors who may give the leading gifts the campaign needs. Gauging prospects’ enthusiasm and endorsement for the project and their ability to make a lead gift is established through the feasibility interviews conducted. A feasibility study also helps identify potential volunteer campaign leaders who possess the personal giving, reputation, and network needed to head the campaign.

Campaign plan, campaign staff, and budget resources

That you need to spend money to make money is a truism. Capital campaigns require investment to be successful. Raising millions of dollars for your school’s visionary project requires a certain level of presentation, professionalism, and expertise to achieve transformational fundraising. Very few schools have the internal capacity or expertise to fully run a capital campaign on their own. A feasibility study provides insight of the qualified professional direction and staff support needed to manage and direct the campaign’s volunteers and leaders. It will also inform the development of the campaign plan outlining the strategies for bringing the project, donors, and leadership together to achieve the goal and the financial resources needed for this.

A thorough feasibility study will determine how your school and its capital campaign stacks up against these three tried and true elements of success.

Who should conduct your schools’ feasibility study?

Evidence indicates that receiving external assistance to implement and conduct a feasibility study yields the best outcome. There are several benefits to having a third-party conduct your feasibility study. Firstly, receiving honest feedback about your project from prospective donors is important. Prospects may not feel they can be candid with a staff member and say what they really think about the project for fear of upsetting the institution that they love and want the best for. Having someone neutral to conduct the feasibility study provides an open and safe opportunity to air their concerns about the project and the school. Secondly, it removes potential conflict and damage to the prospect’s relationship with your school. Sometimes staff members sitting in on interviews feel the need to defend the school from criticism. When this occurs, the interviewee is less likely to be forthcoming with further honest feedback. Thirdly, an external specialist who has conducted several feasibility studies for organisations across different sectors will help achieve a better result. They are likely to be skilled at directing the conversation, drawing out useful information, and improving the experience for the interviewee.

If your school has a vision for a new capital project but is unsure about how to turn this into a reality, consider appointing external counsel. Visit us at www.askright.com to book a free consultation. AskRIGHT has professional fundraising consultants located throughout Australia and New Zealand.


This article has referenced material from Martin L. Novom’s The Fundraising Feasibility Study: It’s Not About the Money (2007), which is an essential resource for capital fundraising, and Why conduct a feasibility Study by Pamela Sutton-Legaud (Principal Consultant, AskRIGHT) for FINZ Spring 2019.

About the author

Dave Marsh is a Fundraising Consultant at AskRIGHT based in Dunedin and working with clients in Otago, Southland, and South Canterbury. Dave has nearly a decade of fundraising and communications experience with a number of charities throughout New Zealand, including the Christchurch Methodist Mission and Presbyterian Support Otago. Dave is passionate about helping charities grow their philanthropic income and raising awareness of their cause. You can reach him at [email protected].