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Don’t Trust Your Feasibility Study Interviews to a Novice!

I love doing feasibility study interviews.  That may surprise you.  As a senior member of our firm, I guess I could have bowed out of the interview process a long time ago, assigning them to junior members of our firm.  Interviews take time and preparation, and they often require travel.  So why be so enthusiastic about doing them?  Because, for me, a feasibility study interview is the closest thing in our business to the part of the fundraising process that I have always liked best…major giving.  Let me explain.

When we prepare for a feasibility study, we work with our client to build a list of potential interviewees.  For the most part, those to be interviewed are top prospects of the organization or institution for which we are working.  These are not randomly selected individuals.  We spend a good deal of time, and often utilize the latest wealth-screening technology to select the best prospects from the client’s database.  After all, the purpose of the feasibility study is to determine if the client is on the right track with their long-range planning, if they have identified objectives that really resonate with the client’s best and most generous prospects.  We may do a focus-group or two to cover those who are not really top prospects, but whose opinion is important for other reasons, but those selected for personal interviews are likely to be important institutional prospects.

I truly relish the opportunity to meet with a client’s top prospects to discuss campaign objectives, philanthropy, personal relationships, interests and willingness to give.  I take a lot of pride in asking good questions, in probing beyond the questionnaire that we have prepared in advance, in listening intently, and in starting to understand what it will take to turn the interviewee/prospect into a major campaign contributor.

When I have been on the other side of the desk as an interviewee over the years, I have been surprised when a young, inexperienced consultant has arrived to interview me.  It really bugs me when that consultant proceeds to work his or her way thru the questionnaire, never clarifying any of my answers, never deviating from the original questions, never probing for further information.  Feasibility study interviews that are done like that just barely scratch the surface.  My goal for each completed interview is to learn as much as I possibly can about the interviewee and about their motivation to give, so that I can provide accurate, insightful advice and counsel to the client as the campaign progresses.

When selecting counsel to undertake feasibility study interviews for your organization, be sure you become acquainted with the consultants who will actually be doing the interviews.  Confirm that they are not just question readers, but rather experienced fundraisers who can clearly understand and help guide an interview toward the greatest amount of information possible.  In doing so, you will strengthen the value of each interview completed for your study.

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