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

Background

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.

Results

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.


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. 


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.

* * *

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.


Chesapeake Montessori School

Chesapeake Montessori School

CONSULTING AREA: Board governance training & Strategic planning

Capacity Partners provided insightful guidance that drew on extensive experience working with schools — but that also reflected a clear understanding of our school’s unique strengths and challenges.

– Joanna Tobin, Board of Trustees, Chesapeake Montessori School

Background

It was time for Chesapeake Montessori School in Annapolis, Maryland, to develop a new five-year strategic plan, and the Board of Trustees needed a consultant to provide expert guidance and assistance. They selected Capacity Partners because of Mary Robinson’s experience with other small schools.

Key Challenges

The Board of Trustees at CMS is comprised of parent volunteers. As the Board approached the strategic planning process, they brought varying levels of experience with governance and planning to the table – and at the time, several were first-time Board members. They needed a “third voice”: an expert who could meet them where they were, individually and as a group, and guide them through the planning process and several learning curves.

Services Provided

We worked closely with CMS over a two-year period. To lay the groundwork for a successful strategic planning process, we started by conducting a training session for the Board that provided an overview of governance, including the roles of the Board, individual trustee and head of school; effective decision-making processes; committee work and optimal structure; and communication intra-Board and between Board and parents. Several months later, Mary Robinson facilitated a full-day long-range planning retreat for the Board and representative staff and then advised the school’s leadership to bring together planning groups for different aspects of the plan. Toward the end of the planning process, she led a second Board training focused on development, including strategies for growing annual giving.

Results

Capacity Partner training sessions in governance and fundraising positioned the Board to create a strong blueprint for the future and helped them develop tools and techniques to execute that plan. In 2012, as the school celebrated its 35th anniversary, the Board completed a new five-year strategic plan, which is now being implemented. The school’s adolescent program is well on its way, and CMS is reaching out in concrete ways to grow the impact of the school and the Montessori philosophy on the broader community.


Latin American Youth Center

Latin American Youth Center

CONSULTING AREA: Strategic Planning

Working with Capacity Partners was a really good decision. Mary Robinson helped us deliver a new strategic plan on a tight timeline, but the process was never superficial or formulaic. She pushed us to be very specific and intentional, and she pulled out underlying themes we might have missed.

– Lori Kaplan, President & CEO, Latin American Youth Center

Background

Latin American Youth Center is a large, complex nonprofit with multiple locations across the DC metro area. The organization works with a diverse population of youth to help them achieve a successful transition to adulthood. It was time for LAYC leadership and staff, who had used large strategy consulting firms to develop two previous strategic plans, to create a new strategic plan. Under the guidance of an experienced internal chief strategy officer, they began to develop the new plan in-house. When they realized they needed an outside perspective and assistance completing the plan, they engaged Capacity Partners.

Key Challenges

Although LAYC had extensive experience with strategic planning, the staff time required to work on a plan in addition to regular work duties made it difficult to deliver a full-fledged plan on a tight timeline. In addition, LAYC is an established nonprofit with a strong track record of success. Being in a position of relative strength and stability can make it more difficult for nonprofit leaders to dig deep and re-examine assumptions.

Services Provided

Over the course of five months, Mary Robinson worked closely with LAYC’s chief strategy officer and staff to deliver the new plan. To supplement the excellent work that had already been completed, Mary conducted three retreats to elicit and address key factors influencing the organization’s future growth strategy. Working committees were formed to flesh out the strategies and objectives for each strategic goal, and a board-staff leadership team was created to coordinate the planning from all organizational perspectives.

Results

In addition to providing bandwidth to assist the chief strategy officer in completing the plan in a timely manner, Capacity Partners was able to offer new insights and pull out some themes that might have been missed internally, including issues related to internal alignment and the importance of relationship building to programmatic success. The result was a dynamic, forward-looking plan that was approved by LAYC’s Board of Directors in early 2013 and is now being implemented.


Montgomery Coalition for Adult English Literacy

Montgomery Coalition for Adult English Literacy

CONSULTING AREA: Strategic Planning

Mary and Sara put into place a comprehensive schedule and worked closely with staff and board members. They were excellent at listening to different points of view and incorporating them into the process. It is hard to describe the innate ability that both Mary and Sara have to facilitate an inclusive discussion, handle differing points of view, and synthesize comments into actionable steps. I think the entire board felt included and able to share their opinions.

– Kathy Stevens, Executive Director, MCAEL

Background

The Montgomery Coalition for Adult English Literacy strengthens the countywide adult English literacy network to support a thriving community and effective workforce. MCAEL worked with Capacity Partners for six months to develop the strategic plan.

Key Challenges

MCAEL needed to both confirm their core work and values and to set goals that put their organization on a growth trajectory.

Services Provided

Mary Robinson and Sara Watkins facilitated the process which was carefully constructed to balance board and staff time. The process created space to include historical data, best practices, and in depth discussions among board members. Also, since the coalition model is integral to the work that MCAEL does, the planning process involved input from stakeholders and two advisory groups and included a survey to get feedback from internal and external stakeholders to guide the Board’s planning.

Results

They now have a solid strategic plan they can share with funders and constituents that defines their organization and shows what they plan to do. The strategic plan is the foundation for all of their annual planning.