Arts for the Aging

Arts for the Aging

CONSULTING AREA: Grant writing, strategic planning, other projects

Mary helped us think through how to become a more sustainable organization and one that really is grounded in its own identity….She helped us understand how to keep as many people under the tent as possible even though we were going through transitions.

– Janine Tursini, Director and CEO, Arts for the Aging

courtesy of Arts for the Aging


The mission of Arts for the Aging is to engage older adults and caregivers with diverse abilities and backgrounds in health improvement and life enhancement through regular participation in the multidisciplinary arts. Arts for the Aging and Capacity Partners forged a dynamic partnership over several years, engaging in various projects ranging from strategic planning to business model restructuring to grant writing. The collaboration has been marked by successful outcomes and an enduring relationship, demonstrating Capacity Partners Founder and President Mary Robinson and her team’s depth and creativity in addressing diverse organizational needs and challenges.

Key Challenges

The organization needed to redefine its identity in the transition following the passing of its founder. The organization also needed to reevaluate how to maintain its sustainability without relying as heavily on individual giving. Other challenges included the sudden loss of a significant funder and some internal staff management issues. Throughout, Director and CEO Janine Tursini says, Capacity Partners served as a trusted advisor and coach, offering guidance and providing a sounding board.

Services Provided

The collaboration addressed multifaceted goals, including strategic planning, communications and branding, and diversification of funding streams. Tursini says the strategic plan created in collaboration with Capacity Partners in 2016 has served as a cornerstone, with “the bones” of it holding up through a later refresh. Working with Capacity Partners, Arts for the Aging successfully navigated the transition following the founder’s passing, evolving into a more sustainable entity with a renewed sense of identity centered on the organization’s mission.


The strategic plan laid a solid foundation, with subsequent updates reflecting the organization’s adaptability. The revenue diversification strategy, including the acquisition of a major county contract through the grant process, has contributed to sustained growth. Capacity Partners Mary Robinson “helped us think through our business model and then, in particular, how to build earned revenue for the organization, which we never had before,” Tursini observes. She describes the revenue diversification project as “a really big success.” The organization has grown in capabilities, making the transition to managing grant writing and fundraising in-house, achieving a long-term goal to build its internal development function.

Finding A Great Grant Writer: What To Look For

Increasing your organization’s capacity to compete for grants can be a key strategy for expanding your income sources. Do you have the bandwidth to pursue opportunities and succeed? Finding the right grant writer – whether hiring internally or engaging outside help — can make all the difference.

Here are some key qualities to look for:

A Track Record of Success

First and foremost, seek out a grant writer with a proven track record of securing grants from various sources. This includes private foundations, as well as county, state, and federal sources. A successful grant writer should be able to share tangible results they have achieved, such as amount of funding secured and the impact the funding has had on the organization’s mission.

Knowledge of Fit with Funders

Understanding that alignment between your mission and the interests of potential funders is critical. A skilled grant writer should be able to assess whether your organization’s mission and programs track with a particular funder’s guidelines in terms of relevant criteria, which can include geography, thematic areas of interest, and organization size.

Proficiency in Reviewing Funders’ Fundamentals

Grant writers should be adept at analyzing a funder’s financials, such as their Form 990, to discern past giving patterns and preferences, notes Barbara Wille, Capacity Partners Partner Consultant. Additionally, they should be able to determine whether a funder accepts unsolicited proposals or if they require a prior relationship or a direct invitation. This knowledge can save time and resources by focusing efforts on the most promising opportunities. “Many funders are not open to unsolicited proposals, no matter what a great match you are with their interests,” says Wille.

Experience in Developing Essential Components

Crafting a compelling grant proposal requires more than just writing skills. A good grant writer is also a good project manager and collaborator. A proficient grant writer should be experienced in managing and pulling together essential components such as mission statements, organizational history, impact assessments, goals and objectives, and leadership profiles. Furthermore, they should understand the ancillary materials that sometimes are necessary for submissions, such as board lists, IRS documentation, and financial statements. They also must be able to work with those in your organization who can provide them.

Bringing In an Outsider’s Perspective

Hiring a grant writer who brings an outsider’s point of view can provide valuable insights into gaps in your narrative and presentation, notes Capacity Partners consultant Laura Apelbaum. They can offer fresh perspectives that you may overlook, ensuring that your proposal effectively communicates your organization’s strengths and potential impact while infusing new energy into the content of your submission. One strategy for managing your grant application development process is to develop your proposals internally and then bring in an outside consultant to give them a final review to give them a polish and vigor that can take them across the finish line.

 Ability To Elevate a Submission

A skilled grant writer goes beyond simply drafting text – they understand the importance of overall presentation. This includes strengthening the budget with explanatory notes, reworking tired narratives, and ensuring coherence and consistency throughout the proposal. Their expertise can elevate the quality of your submission and increase its chances of success.

In the competitive landscape of nonprofit grant writing, selecting the right grant writer is paramount to securing essential funding. By seeking professionals with a proven track record, a thorough understanding of funders’ interests, proficiency in financial analysis, and the ability to enhance presentation, organizations can maximize their chances of success.

Capacity Partners has a proven track record of providing successful grant writing assistance that has taken organizations to the next level. Read more here.

Givers, Openers, Askers and Thankers

Although all of your board members signed on because they believe in your organization and its mission, some are less comfortable asking others for financial support. The good news is that, with some strategic coaching and confidence-building aligned to their individual skills, all of your board members can play essential – if varying — roles in fundraising.

While not every board member will be willing to ask for donations, some will gain confidence in doing so through training. We’ll call those folks ‘askers.’ Other board members may be good at introducing potential funders to the organization’s mission and staff. We’ll call those people ‘openers.’ And all board members can be ‘thankers’ deployed frequently to express gratitude on behalf of the organization, lightening the load on staff while providing a personal touch that makes a lasting impact on donors.

Askers, openers, and thankers are all a part of a successful development process. And of course, all board members should first be generous ‘givers’ who financially support your organization.

Here are some tips for helping board members succeed at becoming effective participants in your organization’s quest for sustainability and growth:

1)         Assure your askers that you will collaborate with them to give them the skills, knowledge and tools to ensure successful interactions with potential donors.

  • Teach them the tricks of the trade, including how to secure the meeting and make the ask. Arm them with talking points and written materials. If you use scripts, be sure each one is tailored for a specific prospect. Your board should fully understand the needs, programs, mission, and success stories of your nonprofit, as well as understanding your fundraising strategy.
  • Help the askers consider who in their networks might be converted to a donor. Encourage them to create a list of colleagues, relatives, and friends who might have an interest in your nonprofit or event. They also should review your organization’s list of donors to see who they know. Go over this information with them so decisions about who to ask and how much to ask for are made in close consultation with the fundraising staff.
  • Remind your board members that both small and large donations are important. Asking someone to buy a $50 or $100 event ticket is a lighter lift than pursuing a $10,000 sponsorship. (Although certainly keep the sponsorship option on the table!)
  • Assure your board members you will not send them out solo to seek support for a large or complex donation, such as a planned gift or support for a capital campaign. Instead, have them go along to shadow/observe with a fundraising team member. Even if they are taking a secondary role, be sure the board member is fully informed on the solicitation strategy so they understand your approach should they be asked to engage.

2)         Openers can introduce potential donors who they know to the askers on the board and connect them to the fundraising staff. In addition to introductions, openers can help raise funds by sharing your organization’s story, including promotion on social media, speaking engagements, and hosting small fundraising events. Let them choose which avenues are most comfortable to them, which also will help lead to success. Feeling successful leads to interest in doing more.

3)         Thankers should call donors to thank them personally for their generosity, with guidance from the fundraising staff. Studies have shown such personal contact boosts contributions and donor retention. These interactions also can help provide you with important information to gauge the level of your donor’s interest in your organization. Be sure you have a process in place for thankers to report back to you. Record this information.

Board involvement is essential for a successful nonprofit. Encouraging your board members to be thankers, askers, and openers can create engagement and help you fulfill your mission.

Strategic Planning Evolution

Strategic planning for nonprofits is undergoing subtle but clear changes. These may be more evolutionary than revolutionary but if it’s been several years since your organization has developed a strategic plan, expect your next plan and planning process to look different.  

 “Clients want flexibility in the process, emphasizing some phases over others and using the process to reconnect and build consensus for the organization,” notes Capacity Partners Partner Consultant Margo Reid. “One third of our 1.5 million nonprofits failed during the pandemic. Clients continue to look for a dynamic strategic planning model and process that emphasizes sustainability and accountability.”   

Partner Consultant Steve Longley observes, “Nonprofits that have weathered the COVID crisis and are now looking at engaging stakeholders for longer-term impact have decided – strategically – to make diversification of revenue a top priority. This takes a new look at a broad range of sources, not all of which will fit, but upon which a dramatic jump in funding can be developed.” 

Consider these emerging concepts: 

  1. Increased focus on impact measurement and outcomes (not outputs): Nonprofits are emphasizing the measurement and demonstration of their impact through clear and measurable outcomes, enabling data-driven decision-making and effective communication about benchmarks and success. These also generate helpful data points for reporting back to funders. 
  2.  Building flexibility into the plan: Some nonprofits are moving away from rigid, long-term plans, embracing shorter-term strategies that provide room to react and respond to changing circumstances and emerging opportunities and priorities. This can include using scenario planning — considering multiple future scenarios and developing strategies to be prepared to address each. This helps organizations become more resilient and responsive to changing circumstances. 
  3.  More expansive definition of stakeholders included in the planning process: Strategic planning now frequently involves greater stakeholder engagement and a broader participatory approach. While this is not a new concept, the breadth and intentionality of stakeholder engagement have grown. Nonprofits increasingly are recognizing that effective strategic planning requires active involvement from a wider range of individuals and groups to make informed decisions, create meaningful impact, and build stronger relationships with their stakeholders. This collaborative approach helps to solidify buy-in and ownership, while incorporating more diverse perspectives and generating new ideas. 
  4.  Pursuit of sustainability and diversified funding sources: There is intensified recognition of unpredictability with governmental funding sources as the shaky economy continues to stir the revenue pot. In a difficult environment, nonprofits are committing to baking financial sustainability into their strategic plans by pursuing diversified funding sources. In terms of committing to sustainability, nonprofits aren’t focusing solely on money, although that is essential. Sustainability also requires that other resources are abundant and productive – high staff retention and successful program delivery as measured by metrics, just to name a few. 
  5. Incorporation of technology and innovation tools: Strategic planning for nonprofits is taking into account rapid advancements in technology and the opportunities they present for efficiency and growth in an array of realms, including communications, fundraising, service delivery, and overall operations. While nonprofits should proceed with some caution, the tremendous potential of AI is opening up a whole new toolkit for operations across the board, especially for small organizations. Strategic plans should take into account opportunities for efficiencies, not just through AI but through investment in CRM tools and systems that, at a minimum, talk to each other. 
  6. Increased focus and accountability on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI):  A sense of urgency around DEI and social justice issues has had a broad impact on nonprofit management and service delivery. In the strategic planning context, nonprofits are seeking more diverse perspectives, voices, and experiences to ensure that their strategies are inclusive and can address systemic disparities. Strategic plans are establishing metrics and benchmarks to measure progress toward achieving DEI goals. Regular evaluation and reporting on DEI indicators help organizations hold themselves accountable, internally and externally. 
  7. Consideration of pandemic lessons. For direct service organizations, for example, a post-pandemic consideration is whether and how to continue providing services virtually.  The pandemic showed it was possible. Now nonprofits have to decide the right balance of in-person and virtual services to maximize cost-effectiveness and program efficacy. 

Margo Reid Earns DEI Certification

Congratulations to Partner Consultant Margo Reid. She has earned a certification in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace from University of South Florida's Muma College of Business.

Asking the Right Questions: Are You Ready for Strategic Planning?

The start of a new year is a great time to reflect on your organization’s past performance and ponder its future direction, especially if you and your board are contemplating a new strategic plan, notes Capacity Partners President and Founder Mary Robinson.

“The needs of different sized nonprofits may vary. But when it comes to strategic planning, there are fundamental approaches to getting to a strong roadmap for the future no matter how big or small you are.” She adds, “Even with the agility required in today’s post-pandemic climate, the basics still matter.”

Here’s a helpful checklist. Have your key stakeholders – board, staff, and volunteers – answer these crucial questions:

1.  Is your organization in a state of flux?

Whether facing external forces such as the pandemic or challenging internal issues, some organizations are not ready to embark on three-year planning. In this case, consider either waiting to address the issue before diving in, or try a dynamic planning model that uses a series of short planning cycles so pending issues can be addressed in a timely manner.

2.  Is your board leadership stable?

If there is transition in leadership, it is wise to wait until those officers settle in and are comfortable in their new roles.

3.  Is the executive director/CEO planning to stay on for several years?

While an organization can complete strategic planning without a top leader, it is best to have on board the person who will lead the execution of the plan, which is nearly always the executive director. An exception would be if the strategic planning scope includes defining what kind of new leader the organization needs.

4.  Do the board and staff have time to engage meaningfully?

Meaningful strategic planning requires a time commitment of at least a half day per month for three to six months. The chair of the strategic planning committee and the organizational leader must dedicate even more time. Many small nonprofits hope to do the impossible – knock out a strategic plan in a single half-day session. That is generally neither wise nor useful.

5.  Do you have someone on your board who is willing to make the commitment to chair the strategic planning committee?

It is too much to expect board chair to lead this process while handling their other responsibilities.

6.  Do you want a board- or staff-driven process, or some combination of the two?

Very small nonprofits tend to opt for a board-driven strategic planning process while large organizations with staff members who bring special expertise are often staff-driven. Either way, the board still owns the responsibility for setting the strategic direction. This includes foundational elements like developing your mission/vision and values as well as establishing the strategic direction and goals. Staff can help tremendously with analyzing the current situation and creating strategy and implementation plans.

7.  What kind of consultant do you want?

Do you need a partner who will guide you through the entire process, or a more focused facilitator, with your team doing most of the work? Make sure your organizational style and expectations line up with your consultant’s.

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If you would like help assessing whether your organization is ready for a strategic plan, or if you’re ready to start the planning process, call Capacity Partners at 240-462-5151. Our team of experts can help you decide if you are ready to proceed and discuss next steps with you.

The Ties That Bind: Strong Stewardship

A plunge in small donor giving is worrying nonprofit organizations (see this recent article). While COVID giving was fairly robust, the economic impact of a near-recession seems to be causing a measurable drag on small donor donations. Are you concerned about the giving of your small donors this season?

There are many strategies to attract and retain these donors, such as offering a “set it and forget it” monthly donation option. But while small donor support is important, ensuring strong donor relationships overall will strengthen the financial health of your organization. The time is always right to beef up stewardship efforts for donors, with some tailoring based on whether they are large or small.

It doesn’t necessarily require grand gestures. Success is about making your supporters feel valued and acknowledged so they keep giving.

Here are some ideas from the Capacity Partners consultant team.

For donors, both small and large:

  • Create low-cost, high-engagement events – tours of programs or “open house” visits (depending on the nature of your mission or service delivery)
  • Hold a town hall as a state-of-the-organization/get to know us (zoom or in person) session; share compelling stories and provide lots of time for questions
  • Initiate a handwritten thank you note/phone call campaign
  • Send out a thank you mailing with a sticker or other low-cost promo/swag
  • Send out short and sweet regular update emails/newsletters. Feature a donor thank you component (perhaps once a year, list all small donors)


Maintaining a personal connection — and not just when a donation shows up – can make a huge difference. It can be low-budget while still making a positive impact. Be in touch all the time.

Have your board reach out to donors around holidays, with messaging that connects to the day or season (gratitude at Thanksgiving; around Valentine’s Day, send cards with related sentiments, such as “You are the heart of our organization”).

Send fun musical ecards for special occasions.

Touch base with donors periodically and consistently for no particular reason and don’t ask for anything; record good notes about their relatives, interests, and pets so that your future conversations can sincerely focus on them.

Be a connector – a resource who links people with common interests or needs – because you’ve gotten to know someone so well. Use your connections to share with other people. People appreciate it.

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For many nonprofits, in the end a significant percent of total giving comes from large donors. So be sure to keep them at the top of your priority list. Here are some tactics:

  1. Create a newsletter for “insiders” that provides insights from your leader, a special story about the impact donors have made on an individual client, or shares organization good news such as special recognition or a new partnership, that will be shared with a more general audience later.
  2. Schedule coffee visits with your top donors. Ask them if they feel comfortable with an in-person meeting or schedule a virtual coffee. The purpose is to learn why they give, which could be turned into an on-line campaign (see #4) or a profile piece in the newsletter.
  3. Single out long-term donors (designating them as Champions/Advocates or some other named distinction) at your next event with an inexpensive pin and recognition from the stage. Be sure to let this group know in advance they will be recognized.
  4. Create an on-line campaign to profile donors weekly or twice monthly. Have a quick interview on why they support the organization (and consider short videos as an option).


Nonprofits that don’t have a Development Director sometimes think that a donor interaction is speaking with a donor at a program or seeing someone at a program and waving to them across a room. Yes, you should note in your database all donor (and nondonor) participation in your programs.

But more importantly, seek out regular attendees and those you suspect may have special interest in your work for more personal attention when you chat about their interests in your work and what’s on tap going forward. These are the interactions that lead to larger gifts.

Reevaluate your year-end campaign and get the details right

As we swing into year-end campaign season, be sure not to stick with "same-old same-old."

Capacity Partners engineered a hugely successful end-of-year campaign for a food pantry in the Dc area several years ago by restructuring their approach and attending to important details. The result was double what the organization had raised the prior year.

Here are some keys:

Segment your donor list. Use tools like wealth screening, giving history, and personal knowledge to structure your approach. For this campaign, the categories were:

  • Visionary, meaning major donors ($1,000+), who were asked to make a larger contribution;
  • Monthly Ask, donors who gave more than once annually but were unpredictable, who were asked to become monthly contributors;
  • Additional Gift, donors who already made an annual contribution and were asked to make an additional gift; and
  • Lapsed donors, who had not given in more than a year and were asked t once again support the organization.

Tailor your communications and try to keep it personal so you stand out in a crowd. The organization sent a different letter for each segment. The executive director hand-signed each one. The letters were hand-stamped with first-class postage.

Don't be afraid to increase the frequency of your solicitations. People are busy especially during the holidays. Getting a reminder about your organization's campaign may be just the nudge they need to commit. Send at least three communications between the week before Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve.

Use multiple platforms (email, social media, website content, mailed hard-copy letter) to advance your campaign, but be sure they all deploy a consistent look that emphasizes the theme and message at the heart of your year-end campaign. For example, the successful campaign designed by Capacity Partners was built around brief, emotional testimonials.

Remember that you've got lots of suupporters out there who care about what you do. Don't let the woes of the economy or the late date slow you down. Get going! You are needed.

Attending to Retention

While the worst impacts of the pandemic may be subsiding, the so-called Great Resignation seems to be going strong. Nonprofits are feeling this at least as much as any other employer. Your people are your greatest asset in delivering on the promise of your organization. How can you keep them?

For many nonprofits, retention via better compensation is not an option. One key may be to better connect the mission of your organization to the people who work there. Working for a nonprofit often is a choice partially motivated by an individual’s identification with what your organization stands for and accomplishes. If you can’t pay people more, aim to build a culture that makes it easy for them to take personal pride in the work and your value proposition because they are part of something that is making a social impact.

Building culture and connection have become even more important with many workplaces operating in hybrid on-site/remote fashion permanently, naturally heightening a sense of disconnection.

Here are some tactics to strengthen your organizational connective tissue:


The hybrid workplace for many organizations is here to stay. This brings with it a natural tension – and potential resentment – regarding being in the office setting. But this also can be leveraged as an asset. Consider being intentional in terms of expectations about when your team must be in the office, so that those times primarily are dedicated to collaboration that works best in person.

Collaboration certainly is possible via Zoom. But different dynamics are in play when people are together in person which can spark deeper interactions. Rather than requiring someone to go into the office mostly for the sake of showing up to sit at a desk, make sure that those in-person times for your team are planful and include productive collaborative time together to exchange ideas and move projects forward.

Collaboration also is stronger through inclusion. A Capacity Partners client who is in the middle of a strategic planning exercise realized the pandemic and hybrid work environment produced a morale issue: those required to come into the office felt it was an unreasonable obligation to fill in for those who are working from home. The Executive Director decided to involve all the senior staff in the strategic planning process, who then in turn involved the rest of the staff. What began as a discovery of low morale actually became a strategy for inclusive collaboration. Together, they realized there is much work to be done in order to build a positive, forward-reaching organization. The outlook brightened for a renewed, transformed organization.


Are changes coming up in your organization? Make sure those are communicated early and well. You want to give your team the sense that changes are happening with and perhaps even because of them (see previous bullet point on inclusive collaboration), rather than happening to them.


Your team can help tell your organization’s story. In addition to validating their work, you will be emphasizing their importance in delivering on your organization’s mission. Consider featuring staff members and their mission-driven successes in fundraising pieces and general communications (social media, newsletters, short video interviews shared on social platforms).


The documented reality is that different generations view work and their relationship with it very differently. Recognize that a one-approach-fits-all is unlikely to satisfy a workforce that is diverse in terms of age, and adapt. Here are some ideas from LinkedIn on tailored approaches for Millennial employees. Acknowledgment also means recognizing people are dealing with many types of stress that can affect their commitment level and productivity. Show your colleagues your humanity by checking in with empathy and grace. During the pandemic, an Executive Director of one of the organizations that CP serves became a father. He readily acknowledged how his new role in the family dramatically transformed his ability to show empathy for his staff’s personal lives and commitments.

CP Vice President Michael Feinstein led a large nonprofit organization in the Washington, DC, area for more than a decade. When COVID hit and remote work became the norm, “I changed the cadence of my one-on-one, team, and staff meetings to check in more frequently and focus on how they were feeling in addition to what they were doing.” He notes that a key to being available to others “was managing my own stress, which meant regular exercise for me.”


If you’ve hired the right people, give them the freedom to do their jobs. Let them know they have your trust to get the job done even when they aren’t sitting in the same place you are.


In a hybrid environment, managers must be far more intentional about creating a sense of connection and belonging. Tactics can be simple but meaningful, such as every Monday morning sending out a message to your team asking how their weekend went and sharing a bit about yours. Intrusive? Perhaps. But people can share as much or as little as they like, and it will help them connect with each other too, especially at a time when they may no longer be bumping into each other in the breakroom. Make it easier for them to feel like they belong to a team.

We welcome new VP Michael Feinstein

I am delighted to announce that Michael Feinstein has joined CP as Vice President. He will make our very strong team even stronger. I’m particularly thrilled because Michael’s expertise in both the nonprofit and commercial worlds will deepen our capabilities in serving small and large nonprofits, both locally and nationally. He brings a business mindset to mission-driven organizations. His wealth of experience in strategic planning and board governance will strengthen the services CP has to offer. I also am excited he will be introducing business planning services to meet the varied needs of our clients. On a personal level, I have known Michael for a decade and have been mightily impressed by his creativity and leadership at Bender JCC. We are very lucky he is bringing his talents to CP as we mark 20 years of providing full-service consulting to nonprofits.

You can learn more about Michael here.