Here's a great question I got today:

Hi, Marc!

I've got a question for you.... Normally, I think it's best for a third party (read, consultant) to conduct a feasibility study. However, right now we don't have enough of a donor base to consider a wide-spread campaign (only about 250 donors last year).

I'm considering a self-analysis by sending to our likely campaign donors a list of items (both endowment and capital) with explanation of benefits, etc. I'll ask the folks to rank them in the order they believe benefits the institution the most. I'll also ask for a second ranking that indicates the urgency of each project. (Just because something is ranked #2 of 5 doesn't necessarily mean it's important/urgent in the eyes of the individual - just less important relative to #1.)

My concern, of course, is this loses the objectivity of a third party conducting the process. But we need to move forward and identify the projects and people that can make some important gifts in the near term. (I will allow anonymity in the response, but we can find ways that help narrow the list - postmark, handwriting, etc.)

What do you think - is it worth the cost of bringing a consultant in, or can this be effective in-house?

Thanks for your thoughts.

Like this questioner, I'm a big fan of getting an outside perspective for campaigns. But let's face it, it can be hard to justify the cost if you only have a few donors.

Here's my response:

This sounds like a good alternative.

I'm wondering if mail is the best tool. With a 1% response rate being considered "good", you'd get a REALLY low rate.

I recommend you set up face-to-face meetings with people. I realize that doesn't allow it to be anonymous but you'd lose way too much information if you do it only by mail. All the small talk can lead to new prospects.

If you can, I'd pose it as another step in a strategizing process the institution is undertaking. Your head wants to hear from all stake-holder groups as you chart the course for the future, so he's asked you to undertake this.

Does that makes sense?

If you're going to go this route, I think it's imperative to

  1. Have the ratings be a face-to-face meeting. Something as simple as this asker outlines might even allow your set-up call to be:

    "Good morning Ms. Donor. I'm [blank] from U Prep. We're in a strategy planning process and Headmaster [blank] asked me to be sure to call you for your input. Would you have 10 minutes for us to get together and go over a brief form?"

    The really hard thing would be making sure you didn't do the form over the phone. Face-to-face will communicate so much more than communication through the phone.

    That might be the way to handle is, "I'm sure you can appreciate that this process is too important for the future of U Prep for us to do over the phone. Would you have 10-15 minutes for us to get together this afternoon or tomorrow morning?"

    Just do it without being pushy.

  2. Make sure the donor's know that the head of the institution wants their opinion and input into this process, especially if the head isn't going to be meeting with that person!.

What do you think? Use the comments below to give your advice to this person.

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