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Funding Feasibility Studies – Don’t raise big funds without one!

I recently came across a charity that has been running a £3 million appeal for new facilities that has now got stuck. It seems things started well, but the appeal has gradually faltered, with only £1 million raised to date and with long delays to the timetable. It is an embarrassing situation for the charity and its trustees.

In talking to them, there seem to be a number of reasons for the lack of progress (little trustee engagement, premature launch of the public phase of the appeal, a rather mixed bag of items on the shopping list), but paramount among these was the failure to carry out a funding feasibility study before planning or launching the appeal. As a result, the appeal objectives were not tested and the charity has effectively been raising funds based on hope rather than a clear idea of what was possible.

This, of course, is a salutary reminder to any charity thinking of running a major appeal to spend some serious time and effort in testing out the basis for it before committing to it publicly.

The charity in question is now faced with some tricky questions in seeking to recue its appeal. Time and opportunities are also being lost as fundraising is put on hold and there is a risk that people (both within and outside the charity) will lose faith in the appeal. Costs have also gone up as the charity seeks external advice and looks to recruit new staff to continue the appeal.

The lesson then is always to carry out a proper feasibility study before you commit. You really do need to get answers to a lot of questions before pressing the button. For example, is your case for support strong enough? Where will your lead gifts come from? Is the voluntary leadership available to head up the appeal? Where are the funds likely to come from and in what sort of amounts? How long should the appeal be expected to take? How will you avoid conflict with your existing revenue fundraising? Etc.

As well as testing the water before you run the appeal, a feasibility study also gathers much useful information to inform the next stage of the process – the appeal strategy. So for example, how do you know what financial objectives to set for each income source? A well conducted feasibility study will tell you.

Sometimes, feasibility studies identify some tricky issues, but it is far better to address these before you launch your appeal than have to deal with the fallout later. It can also happen that a study will show a proposed appeal to be unviable. This is of course disappointing, but far better not to launch an appeal that is doomed to failure than suffer the consequences later.

Finally, don’t confuse a funding feasibility study with the general feasibility study that is sometimes carried out by architects. This will no doubt be useful in telling you whether your building plans are suitable for the site you have in mind, but it won’t tell you if you can actually raise the money to build it!

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