Millau Viaduct: Tran Valley, France
World’s highest vehicular bridge
The Millau Viaduct is the tallest bridge in the world, with one mast’s summit 1,125 ft. above the base of the structure. It features the 12th highest bridge deck in the world, with 890 ft. between the road deck and the ground below. When the decision was made to build a high crossing of the Tarn River Valley between France and Spain, the structures division of Sétra, a technical department within the French Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure, carried out preliminary studies and examined the feasibility of a structure. Five teams of architects and structural engineers were formed; each was to conduct in-depth studies of one of the five general bridge designs. The solution of a cable-stayed bridge was declared the best. Detailed studies were carried out by the winning team, and construction was completed in 2004.
In 2006, the Millau Viaduct received the IABSE Outstanding Structure Award.
There are two kinds of people who encounter these types of crossings. The first is like my wife, who is deathly afraid of heights and convinced that there is no way the structure will actually support her. The second is like me, who gets half way across and then wonders if the bridge will hold. My first thought when at the point of no return is “I hope this bridge is well constructed.” Rarely do I stop to think about the origins of design.
The P2 pier is the tallest structure in France,
taller than the Eiffel tower.
How do you design a successful capital campaign?
The history of bridges goes back as far as man’s desire to overcome obstacles of getting from one side to the other. Today, bridges are not only practical, but wonders of architecture and design.
John Pierpont (J.P.) Morgan said, “The wise man bridges the gap by laying out the path by which he can get from where he is to where he wants to be.” Non-profit organizations are continually evaluating how to traverse the obstacles preventing them from doing more of the good work they do today. Many times that planning process leads to the need for an extraordinary fundraising initiative, focused on an urgent need, with a defined timeline, and a dollar goal: in short, a capital campaign. If the capital campaign is the bridge, the feasibility and planning study is the design and engineering process.
Is it really necessary to conduct a study?
The answer is, most of the time, “yes.” There are three reasons a fundraising feasibility study is so important:
- There is no better way to gauge philanthropic priority for your project.
- There is no other reliable indicator of capacity.
- The campaign must be an unqualified success.
I am not an engineer, but I do understand how important it is to measure the load-bearing capacity for any bridge, particularly if I am going to be on it with others. Just as with the Millau Viaduct project, there are tests and benchmarks, along with science, art, and experience that go into determining the structure and capacity for a bridge, or a capital campaign.
The most reliable way to determine the design and fundraising capacity for a capital campaign is a well-orchestrated feasibility study, conducted by an experienced study director. No past or present giving experience is a sure indication of what an organization can raise in a capital campaign. The study is the means by which information is shared, tested, analyzed and put into an actionable plan.
How do you define “unqualified success?”
The good news is, you get to define the terms for success, and the study is the first step in doing so. I worked with an organization, doing amazing work with inner-city families. They had a need, and a plan for a new facility that would have a profound impact on their ministry as well as the community. They needed $15 million dollars to do so. We conducted a fundraising feasibility study and recommended, among other things, a preliminary $10 million goal. Let me say that a recommended starting goal coming out of study is most often the floor. The objective is to set a goal that can and will be exceeded through the effective work of the campaign.
The organization was convinced that it could not scale back the project, and felt confident that it could raise the other $5 million from sources not included in the study. They were determined to set a goal of $15 million. Many positive outcomes happened through the course of the campaign: they attracted a fully-engaged volunteer team like no other they had experienced; they received the largest gift in the organization’s history; they experienced an increase in annual fundraising; and they raised more money than they ever had for a single project. But, they did not raise $15 million. The perception of many was that the organization did not experience an unqualified success because it did not reach its publicized goal.
Goals are benchmarks for success that must be surpassed, and the findings from the study should set the foundation for that success.
What makes a fundraising feasibility study successful?
The study is not the place to skimp on experience. For me it is important that it is not the rivet-drivers who designed the bridges I cross. This observation is not intended to slight the importance or expertise of the construction crew. However, it gives me comfort to know that experienced bridge designers and engineers are on the job. In the same way, it is important to have that kind of experience conducting the feasibility study that will lead to the design of your campaign. It is the individual(s) conducting the study that will:
- interact with your highest levels of leadership,
- represent you and your project to your most important relationships,
- actively listen to and probe the responses in the study, and
- ultimately analyze the data and present insightful recommendations for you to make wise decisions.
If using an outside third party to conduct the feasibility study, take the time to get to know not only the firm, but those that will be meeting with your prized relationships and representing you in the process. Check references, not simply for the firm, but for those individuals. Get the most experience you can to probe the responses of study participants and provide you with substantive analysis and recommendations.
There are a number of ways to conduct a study, however the most successful approaches include:
- developing a compelling and urgent Case for Support that concisely summarizes the needs and impact of the potential campaign;
- conducting confidential, face-to-face interviews with individuals of influence and/or affluence whose input is critical;
- providing thorough and insightful analysis and observations from the responses, not simply a polling process or questionnaire;
- recommending specific and actionable steps on how best to proceed including project priorities, preliminary goals, campaign organization, timeline and activities, awareness and marketing, assessment of organizational readiness, and a clear financial path to success.
Nanpu Bridge: Shanghai, China
Circular design to save space
Does a study always lead to a campaign?
I am asked often if I have ever recommended an organization NOT proceed with a campaign as a result of the study. I have, but that is the exception and for extreme circumstances. Most often, if an organization has taken the appropriate steps in strategic planning that identifies realistic resources needed, the planning and feasibility study is a process of refining and defining. Because a campaign is designed to test the upper limits of reality in most cases, many times the study recommendations will require the organization to make decisions about scaling, phasing, financing or communicating before moving forward. In other words, it is more likely to get a “yellow light” than a “red light.”
A look at the world’s most fascinating bridges is instructive. The most impressive designs seem to be those that incorporate the challenging elements and obstacles into the workable solution rather than allowing them to remain an impediment. There is a bridge where boats not only flow under, but on top of the bridge alongside cars and trucks. Another bridge is a spiraling corkscrew, designed to accommodate congested traffic in a tight urban area. Yet another features beautiful fountains where the river flows through the bridge and comes out as colorful cascades on the other side.
A good architect and engineer conducts a thorough evaluation of the possibilities, and the process of providing realistic solutions is always at the front end of that edifice – not just for show, but for effect.
In preparing for a successful capital campaign, the planning and feasibility study is that process of not only identifying the opportunities, but also evaluating the obstacles that stand in the way of moving your organization from one side of greatness to the other side of amazing.
This article first appeared in the March 2013 issue of Dimensions magazine, a publication of the National Catholic Development Conference. For more information about The Fundraising Resource Group, visit www.thefundraisingresource.com.