"I've got a
great idea for a new program! Lets
form a NonProfit, and then we can get
Sound familiar? Starting a new program is
exciting. But without doing your homework
first, your program is much more likely to
We don't like to do the homework. We
think it's more exciting to just jump in
and get to work. That's why this article
will be helpful for you. Because done
correctly, performing a feasibility study
What Exactly is a Feasibility Study?
A feasibility study will provide you with
a map of pitfalls and opportunities likely
to be encountered in creating your new
program. Feasibility study is the ounce of
prevention that is worth far more than the
pound of cure.
Feasibility study lets you see potential
problems before they hit you between the
eyes (the point when most of us first
That Doesn't Sound Like Fun
and Excitement! You Promised
The excitement comes from talking to
dozens of knowledgeable people, from your
congressman to high school kids. Finding
new ways of thinking about your program.
Considering all sides of the subject, so
you don't have to learn from your
mistakes. Gathering information that will
be critical when it comes time to look for
funding. Talking to folks who are likely
to become supporters of your efforts.
Looking at Feasibility Study in this
light, it's hard to understand why someone
would choose NOT to do it!
The root of feasibility study is
asking questions. There are three
sets of questions that will help
you determine if the project makes
What do we want this program to
accomplish for our community?
Is this project really needed?
If it is needed, what will it
take internally to make this
program a reality?
The answers to these questions
will tell you whether the project
will do what you want it to do,
and it will tell you how.
Who to Ask:
We have written entire books about
'who to ask' and how to engage
those individuals. The best advice
as you start out is to list
everyone you can think of, whose
advice might be helpful in
answering the questions below.
Don't worry about whether you know
those individuals or not - just
list who you would love to get
advice from. Potential clients?
Potential supporters? Potential
partners? People who might refer
clients? People who are already in
Then next to all those names,
note the ones you already know.
For the ones you do NOT know, your
job is twofold. First, list people
who may know them, who can provide
an introduction. Second, make sure
every time you meet with someone,
you ask if they know anyone who
knows the individuals you want to
get to know.
Remember, because this is
fact-finding and not asking for
money, people will be far more
willing to connect you to people
And in the end, there is always
the direct approach - pick up the
phone and call those people
directly, with no introduction.
Again, because you do not want
money (and you may need to be very
clear about that - we are all so
used to being hit on for money!),
you have a far better chance of
their agreeing to share their
For additional information on how
to engage these individuals and
where to find them, see the links
at the bottom of this article.
this program accomplish?
Most people think of "feasible" as a
a) Is there a need for
b) What will it cost?
/ Can we afford to do it?
business-oriented questions are indeed
important. But they don't get at the
heart of why NonProfits create new
programs - to create change.
And so, the first
question for creating a new program must
What change do
we want this program to accomplish
for our community?
Whether you are
starting a whole new organization or
creating a new program for an existing
organization, focus on your vision for
improving your community.
Other questions to
spark your thinking:
• What do we want the
end result of this program to be?
• Why is this program
These will be your
first questions, and they will also be
your last. Because at the end of all the
research and interviews, you will be
able to look back at these questions and
Will the program
accomplish what we wanted it to
Is The Project Needed?
The second set of questions helps decide
if the program is needed:
- Is there
substantial demand for this program?
- Will this program
in any way duplicate or otherwise
compete for funds and/or clients with
programs doing similar work in the
- Are the obstacles
to developing this program
- Does the
development of this program provide
synergy or other benefit for our own
programs and/or other programs in the
Part: Finding the Answers to Those
There is no magical way to find the
answers to these questions. The power
(and the fun) come in the asking - in
talking to as many people as possible,
from as many different perspectives as
other NonProfits. City Council offices
and program recipients. Volunteers.
United Way. Ask the CEO, but also ask
the janitor. Imagine how strong your
program will be when its genesis is the
input of all these knowledgeable and
You will find that
most people are anxious to help you.
People like to be thought of as experts,
and they like to share their opinions
and thoughts. You will be asking folks
to do what they enjoy doing. Treat them
to breakfast, and ask away!
Is there unmet demand for this program?
Or is there already something like this
around your community?
To learn what's going
on in your community, talk to folks from
as many walks of life as possible.
Survey potential recipients of the
service. Talk with local government
officials, with Information and Referral
services, or other organizations that
are often the first stop in a person's
search for help. Talk with funders -
foundations, individual philanthropists,
United Way representatives, etc.
What are their
biggest gripes about existing programs?
What do they think of your idea? What
are their suggestions? What approaches
are they thinking of that you haven't
Obstacles are those things that could
stand in the way of a successful
program, and that MUST be overcome for
the program to accomplish its goals.
What may stand in
your way? And how can you overcome those
Money and staff are
always the first items on the obstacles
hit-parade, so you might as well put
them on there right now.
think of internal obstacles: Limited
physical space for a new program?
Limited past board support for this type
of effort? Etc.
external obstacles: Is the economy so
healthy that the public has forgotten
the poor? Does your community have a
disdain for public art? What external
obstacles will threaten your program?
Ask your contacts
about these potential obstacles. Have
them add others to the list. And then,
item by item, with the help of the folks
you are interviewing, determine if and
how those obstacles can be overcome.
Synergy can be internally or externally
focused as well. The new program may be
a catalyst for other changes within your
organization, or it could be a catalyst
for changes in the community, bringing a
number of agencies together to do
something that hasn't been done before.
Again, talking to lots of different
folks is the key. If
the creation of this program will make
the whole bigger than the current sum of
parts, then that will be a big plus in
determining its feasibility.
The benefits from this questioning come
from the actual answers you receive, as
well as the simple process of asking and
talking to people.
First, you will gain
invaluable information, from
perspectives that might never have
occurred to you. It is exhilarating to
have all this advice, from experts in so
many fields, free for the asking.
Equally as important,
though, is that you will be out in the
community, making the project known,
gaining support. Follow up these visits
with a personal note of thanks for their
time, and promise to keep them posted on
your progress. Then keep your word and
do keep them informed.
"What Will it
Take to Run The Program?"
Just because a project
is needed doesn't make it practical.
The following set of
questions will eventually become your
program/business plan, leading right up
to the creation of a program budget.
They describe the practical side of your
Chances are you know
many of the answers to these questions
and won't need a great deal of outside
input. However, if you are in doubt,
don't guess - ask. The more accurate
your information, the more accurate your
eventual cost projections will be.
The following seven
functions are the basis of any NonProfit
program, regardless of the type of
program. The first 2 items, Product and
Operations, will define the program and
lay the groundwork for all the other
For the purpose of
this example, lets use the following
Creation of a Counseling Program
As specifically as possible, define the
program. If the program is short-term
counseling for at-risk teens, what will be
the focus of the counseling? How
specifically can you define your clients?
What types of problems will the program
focus on? Etc.
As succinctly as possible, define how the
program will function. From where are you
anticipating the teens will be referred?
What will be the process once they arrive?
How many sessions will they get? How long
will a session be? What will the intake
process be? Etc.
Direct Service Personnel:
From your definition of the program and
its functional operations, what types of
positions and how many direct service
(non-administrative) staff hours do you
anticipate the program will require?
What types of administrative support
will the program require? Will the
program require its own full-time
receptionist or can that position be
shared? What kinds of paperwork will
be required? How much planning time
will be required? Administration is
the area that is most frequently
overlooked and is guaranteed to eat up
a larger-than-expected chunk of staff
time. Be as specific as you can in
planning for this function.
Estimate all the equipment and
facilities needs for starting AND
maintaining the program. This will
include physical space as well as
everything from desks and chairs to
computers. Can some of this function
be provided in-kind or
Do you have a plan for engaging
community members in what you want to
accomplish? This will include engaging
individuals in referring your service,
to bring in clients - which may
include engaging schools or the courts
or whomever. It will include engaging
individuals who may be able to provide
things you need - resources such as
space or volunteers or cash resources
or advice about how to do the work you
are doing (or answers to all the
questions in this article!). How will
you ensure the community is deeply
engaged in your work?
You can see that this process isn't cast
in stone. The answer to one question may
change the answers to a whole set of
Looking into the equipment needs of your
program may bring up numerous obstacles
that hadn't been considered. After
reviewing those new obstacles with some
of your contacts, you may find that the
project doesn't make as much sense as it
did before you had all the facts.
• Or you
may find, while researching the
personnel needs of your program, that
there are 2 similar programs in your
community, that no one in your highly
knowledgeable group of advisors even
knew about, offering the opportunity for
Be prepared to adjust
and tweak as you continue to learn.
the Program Accomplish What We
Wanted It To Accomplish?
We circle back to the question that
matters most: Will this program help us
make our vision for our community's
future into a reality?
Once the planning
group is satisfied that the whole
package makes sense - that there is a
definable need for the program; that
obstacles are all addressed with a plan
for overcoming them; that funding is
possible; that there is no potential
duplication of effort; etc. - then you
will be able to answer that big picture
question: "Will this program
accomplish what we wanted it to
Calendaring, assigning and budgeting.
Who will do what, when? How much will it
cost and how quickly can we
realistically budget it in?
Then start your
engines, and you're off! You will be on
the road to providing that new service,
reaching towards the long-term
possibilities you had envisioned for
And you will have
gained support and had a good deal of
fun along the way!