Synagogue leaders have often asked me whether they should engage fundraising counsel to conduct a feasibility study. The leadership knows that they need to raise several million dollars to renovate the building and to start an endowment fund. Why can’t they just go and start asking people for contributions?
Life should be so easy.
My answer to this question often starts with an analogy to the business world. I live in New Jersey, home to many pharmaceutical companies. Before Schering-Plough introduces a new drug, there is a great deal of market research that takes place.
A feasibility study to determine a community’s readiness for a comprehensive campaign is market research. Questions are asked of a select group of congregants to determine emotional and financial support of the campaign. Congregants are not asked for a campaign commitment during such interviews. But the questions that are asked help the consultant learn what would motivate the congregant(s) to give to the campaign and how much he/she/they would be willing to give to this effort.
Important and interesting fact: According to the National Park Service on their Partnerships page, there is a 92% success rate for capital campaigns that are preceded by a feasibility study.
I have written in these pages about engagement and cultivation. Hiring a consultant to conduct a feasibility study does not take the clergy and synagogue leaders off the hook from engaging and cultivating. Such a study adds and supports this process.
Who should participate in such a study? Remember, 90% of the funds that you will raise for a comprehensive campaign will come from 10% of the community’s donors. Knowing the congregants who have significant capacity is important. You also should consider having past presidents and current leaders participate as well.
How many people should be interviewed? The number that guides my thinking is 10%. For some synagogues with a membership size of more than 500 families, this might be too costly. 30-50 interviews of a mixed group of congregants who have financial capacity or who at some point have been involved as synagogue leaders should be sufficient for the purposes of the study.
Depending on the number of interviews, the study should take 2-3 months to complete and cost between $20,000 and $30,000. The final report that the consultant presents to the synagogue leadership should highlight an achievable goal for the campaign.
The feasibility study offers serious data to back up the hopes and dreams that synagogue leaders have. Being able to tell prospective donors that the results from your feasibility study predict your campaign goal of $5 million is affirming. Especially to people with any business sense.
Someone along the way will ask how you how the campaign goal was determined. If you simply say it is based on the costs of the project, the next question will be something like “how do you know that we can raise that much money in our community?”
Having a development/fundraising professional conduct the study tells congregants that you are going about the campaign in a serious and professional way.