Planning Studies: What are they and how to know if you need one?

Planning Studies: What are they and how do you know if you need one?

Nonprofit leaders with an approaching capital funding need often wrestle with the need for and value of a planning study. Afterall, studies take added time, a commodity you are in short supply of. Whether you…

Are embarking on your first capital campaign and aren’t sure what to expect from a planning study, or

Have successfully raised capital funds in the past, with or without a study, and are wondering if a study is necessary for your next campaign…

…understanding what a study is, the information it should provide and when you do and do not need one, is critical to your role as a nonprofit leader.

At Mission Advancement, we have successfully led clients through capital campaigns with and without studies. We’ve also conducted dozens of studies ourselves for organizations around the country. We know the value a planning study can provide, and below, we share insight into:

  • What a study is

  • What it will tell you

  • What it won’t

  • When you might need one
What is a planning study?

A campaign planning study, often referred to as a feasibility study, assesses an organization’s readiness to execute a capital campaign. It involves interviews with key stakeholders, including leadership, board, donors and staff.

At Mission Advancement, we assess your organization’s readiness based on the following essential elements we know it takes to achieve a successful campaign:

  • The case or story you tell
  • Leadership and who tells the story
  • Prospects and their capacity and engagement
  • Plan for how and when you tell the story
Take a deeper dive into the 4 Elements of a Successful Campaign in this free guide.
What you WILL learn from a campaign planning study
  • A conservative estimate of the funds you can raise, that is, a floor to the amount of funds you can raise through a capital campaign

  • Your stakeholder’s view of and confidence in your leadership

  • The right stakeholders to lead and involve in your campaign

  • If your vision is viewed as compelling and urgent to those that will drive the success of the campaign

  • Critical information to ensure the best campaign plan and timeline

  • Potential risks that if not mitigated could impact campaign success

What you WILL NOT learn from a campaign planning study
  • The exact amount of money you can raise through a capital campaign

  • The exact amount of time it will take you to raise the funds needed

  • Exactly what the campaign future holds

A planning study allows you to determine if you have the essential elements necessary to execute a successful campaign.

  • Is your story compelling and urgent in the eyes of your donors and stakeholders?

  • Do you have good, capable and willing leaders?

  • Do you have a prospect pool with capacity and the willingness and interest to support your vision?

  • Is there a solid plan to execute?

And, while a study will provide a lot of valuable insight, a study will not serve as a crystal ball.

A planning study WILL NOT…

  • Predict exactly how the campaign will unfold

  • Uncover every last dollar

  • Precisely predict how long it will take

  • Identify every potential roadblock that may arise

However, a study can be a critical first step in developing a solid, well-informed plan, which will allow you to mitigate foreseen challenges and be nimble and pivot if and when unforeseen challenges arise.

How do you know if you need a planning study?

Even with clarity around what a study will reveal, and what it won’t, you may still be wondering how to determine if you need one for your campaign.

When should you embark on a campaign planning study?
  • When you face the critical decision to pursue a campaign or not

  • When there is room for feedback or input on your vision and proposed projects

  • When your donor base isn’t accustomed to capital fundraising asks


When should you NOT embark on a campaign planning study?
  • Your only option is to raise significant campaign dollars to meet a very immediate need

  • You have no flexibility in your solution and proposed project

If you find yourself facing either of the above, moving directly into campaign may make the most sense.

Understandably, financial feasibility is often the most pressing question you and your board have; however, it is critical to answer more questions than simply “how much can we raise?”  Campaign readiness is about much more than the capacity of your donor base.

At Mission Advancement, a planning study reveals the readiness of your organization to execute a long-term, successful campaign using the four elements listed above.

For more information on planning studies and if a study is the right next step for your organization, listen to our Planning Study Webinar and find our Planning Study Checklist.


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