Are Feasibility Studies a Waste of Time for Community Colleges? (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this blog series I responded to two of James LaRose’s contentions about feasibility studies being the “Crack Cocaine” of non-profit consulting.  Please take a moment to read Part 1 for an explanation of his forthcoming book and why I’m responding to some of his contentions.  And, as a reminder, I’m presenting my viewpoint from a community college perspective.

Charities Pay Consultants $50,000 for a Feasibility Study

Another contention that Mr. LaRose makes, as presented in the Chronicle of Philanthropy article, is that “In many cases charities pay consultants $50,000 for a feasibility study and then get charged fees that typically amount to 5 percent of whatever the charity raises in its campaign.  So if it is a $10 million campaign, the consultant could earn $500,000 over a two- or three-year period.”  As I’ve previously stated, I would be very skeptical of any firm that wanted to charge $50,000 for a community college feasibility study.  While I can’t speak for charities and other non-profits, in our line of work with community colleges, we don’t consider it ethical to charge a percentage of dollars raised.  We believe it is most fair to charge a fee for service.  That fee would remain the same whether the goal was $10 million or $50 million.  And, by the way, if you ever agree to pay anywhere near $500,000 for a campaign with a $10 million goal you are being way overcharged!

Money is More Important than Mission or Ministry

His final contention that I wish to address is “Money is more important than mission or ministry.  Money is oxygen:  without it you can’t breathe.”  I think we all would agree that money is obviously a critical component of a campaign.  However, if the campaign isn’t also about advancing the mission of the institution it will only be about dollars.  And if it’s only about dollars the college will lose significant immediate and future opportunity.  A community college campaign should also be a starting point for creating new levels of relationships with individuals, corporations, and organizations in your service area.  A properly designed and executed campaign will not only meet the immediate campaign goal, but will also establish opportunities for building on that dollar goal in the future.  That’s why we often say a second campaign will yield 150% of the first campaign goal.  And, this can only happen when the college’s campaign initiatives are aligned with the perceived needs of the service area.  They primary impact of a community college is regional economic development, workforce development, and enhanced quality of life and opportunity for community residents.  Yes, it’s about money, but mission and mission alignment with the community is just as essential for generating long term support.

And, how to we assure that our mission and vision is aligned with the needs, opportunities, and challenges of the community?  It all comes back to the feasibility study.

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Each week, our team of experts will put share their experiences, tips and viewpoints in all areas of higher education consulting, leadership, and fundraising. We're a team that consists of tenured individuals who have made it their life’s work to help solve some of the issues surrounding community colleges today. Some of our topics include:

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  • Ways to prepare for a feasibility study
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