In the March 17th issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy there is an article about a forthcoming book by James LaRose entitled “Re-Imagining Philanthropy.” The book is due to be released this summer. A major topic of the article was to look specifically at his contentions about feasibility studies contained in a chapter titled “Feasibility Studies: The Crack Cocaine of Non-Profit Consulting.” Some of what is being reported in that chapter has caused quite a bit of debate in philanthropic circles, so I wanted a chance to respond from the point of view of a community college campaign consultant. While I’m not in a position to respond on behalf of all non-profits, I do have over 30 years of experience with community colleges both as an administrator, president, and consultant. So I thought I’d give you my take on some of these contentions. I’ll respond to a couple in this post and conclude the discussion in a follow-up.
Feasibility Studies are a Waste of Time and Money
One of LaRose’s contentions is that feasibility studies are often a waste of time and money. He states “Eighty percent of nonprofits don’t need to spend $25,000 to $50,000 to find out what they already know, that they aren’t ready.” In our experience, part of the value of a feasibility study is that the information the consultant learns through interviews and other means is confidential. We learn about concerns, issues, opportunities, and challenges during the study that have not, nor would be, shared with a college administrator. This helps us to design a campaign plan that is focused on building the strengths of the college while overcoming the challenges. This information is also important beyond the campaign in that it helps the college understand how its services are being perceived in the community. Also, a properly structured study should also provide you with information about community needs, priorities, and trends that will help shape the initiatives, dollar goals and marketing strategies for the campaign. In other words, a good feasibility study will get at data that is not readily accessible by college staff. Also, we urge you to be highly suspect if any the cost of any community college feasibility study proposal came anywhere near that top figure of $50,000.
If You Do a Feasibility Study, Hire the Same Consultant to Run the Campaign
A second contention provided my Mr. LaRose is “If you do perform a feasibility study, you should not hire the same consultant to run the campaign.” I would certainly agree if, during the study, the college finds that the consultant is not a good fit with the organization you should change consultants. However, in most instances changing consultants will slow the process down and can impact the success of the campaign. The consultant who has conducted the feasibility study has learned the community, knows the college leadership team, and understands the college and community culture. The college has already invested in the consultant and the community has shared confidential information that a new consultant would not have resulting in a loss of consistency. If possible, staying with the same consultant will result in a better and more effective campaign plan and a more cost efficient consultancy.