God has put some huge possibilities in front of you. Now what? About the time you ask this question, reality sets in and people start getting scared.
They start asking even more questions. How much is this going to cost? How much money will we need to raise? How much have we raised in the past? The forecasts, projections, and estimates start rolling in. Each step toward an actual decision seems to be complicated with more and more information. In an effort to follow the rules, or at least get more clarity and information, someone suggests a feasibility study is conducted, preferably by an outside consultant.
And with the thud of the consultant’s 192 page report, all becomes clear. You can expect to raise somewhere between much less than you need or only slightly less than you need. Or, in the rare case, the study shows you can raise exactly the funds you need and you have this nagging feeling that maybe you are thinking too small.
There is no magic in a feasibility study. Feasibility studies are simply designed to give you a snapshot of what your next incremental step could be. Any good consultant will tell you that you can’t accurately measure campaign success ahead of time, because your aren’t yet in the campaign. The study is designed to measure the possibilities, the current environment among your constituents, their readiness for a campaign.
In itself, this is not a bad thing. But, I see two common problems inherent in feasibility studies that often harm the direction of the ministry during the crucial time of making key decisions about the future.
If like me you live in America, we are in such a philanthropically oriented culture that the very process of studying potential donors profoundly impacts the results of most feasibility studies. The scientific principle behind this is called “reactivity.” The study of something changes the very nature of what you study. People are just as likely to drastically understate what they might give as they are to overstate what they might give, depending on their reaction to the concept of a campaign.
Of course, some feasibility studies attempt to take this into account, but there is no way around the reality that the feasibility study itself changes your constituents and therefore outcomes of your campaign.
The financial projections of the feasibility study usually serve to define the scope of the project, rather than the actual vision for the ministry. Despite all the speculative language leaving room for unexpected success included by the well-meaning consultant, an iron clad fist of data closes around your vision. From that point on, as far as the organizational leadership is concerned, the size and scope of your project are determined by the data. You turn our focus away from seeking to discern the impossible things that God may be calling you to and resign yourself to the limits of what is feasible.
Despite your early visioneering, you have now defined success as reaching the limit of how far you already know you can go. All this based upon a report conducted among a specific group of people at a specific point in time.
I think the reason the danger of this is often missed is that the numbers already feel like such a big challenge. Whether the feasibility study says you can raise 5 million, 15 million, or 150 million, these all feel like big numbers when you are at ground zero. You still have to do the work and raise the funds. The what ifs and risks pile on, and the chill wind of fear crawls over your leadership.
This process of envisioning, planning, measuring feasibility, and then analyzing risks and obstacles can result in an ingrained habit of backing away from big steps of faith that move your organization forward. It becomes a part of your organizational DNA. I’ve seen this occur frequently in churches, where the layers of committees or politics often demand an extensive process of planning and feasibility analysis. The process lags, and getting momentum going is very difficult. The data, details, and sheer number of all the things to fear crashes in on us. Forward progress grinds to a halt. And what about that elderly church member in the front row, the one admonishing you to “just trust God, He’s brought us this far.” He seems rustic and simple when compared to our data, with layers of planning and forecast models.
Please do not take what I’m saying here as an indictment of data-driven decision making and good research. Keys to the success of any organization are good planning, due diligence research, and the use of data in making informed leadership decisions.
I propose the real need, importance, and true value of a feasibility study is not the pre-conceived notion of what is “feasible.” Instead, there is a crucial process by which you assess the current state of your constituents and donors, and by asking questions, begin to appropriately challenge them to think deeply about your mission and vision. With this in mind, I recommend you commit to a so-called feasibility study with a commitment to it as a Due Diligence Process. This could be a one-time study, or an ongoing discipline that is integrated into your approach of working with constituents. The process of gathering marketing research prepares people for change while at the same time affording you the opportunity of studying their reactions to different options and ideas.
Gathering data to make informed decisions shouldn’t place your vision in a choke-hold, it should illuminate the pathway forward along the way.