Plan A for nonprofits

Plan A Advisors is a company that combines planning and fundraising strategies for nonprofits, whose challenges by the very name are different than those of for-profit organizations.

Evan M. Kingsley and Adam R. Gaynor, Ph.D., founded their company in 2013 and called it Plan A Advisors, because as Kingsley says, “When you have Plan A, you don’t need plan b. Adam and I were both with another firm that was primarily focused on fundraising,” Kingsley adds, refering to The Whelan Group, a Manhattan-based consulting company whose clients include museums, colleges and human-service agencies. “We built a substantial planning practice to grow it.”

What they realized, Kingsley adds, is that “to do planning in a vacuum or to do fundraising in a vacuum is to do a disservice to both.” So they founded a company that would combine planning and fundraising strategies for nonprofits, whose challenges by the very name are different than those of for-profit organizations.

“In the for-profit world, the bottom line is the bottom line,” Kingsley says. “The consultant is hired to tell the company what to do in order for the numbers to be in the black.

“A nonprofit…is a whole different way of looking at success. Yes, the organization should strive to be in the black or have a surplus. It should have a balanced budget. But the measure of success…is its impact on the community or audience it desires to serve.”

Plan A doesn’t tell its nonprofit clients what to do. Rather it gives them processes for achieving their goals. And it does this by keeping a manageable portfolio, Kingsley says, with no more than 12 projects at any one time, about a fourth of which are on retainer. The company has four full-time employees. Besides partners Kingsley and Gaynor, there is consultant Melissa Biffert, who joined the firm in 2016, having worked with nonprofits, public institutions and colleges; and project associate Dominique E. Tinsley, who served as manager of student services and teen programs at the Harlem School of the Arts.

“The bigger you get, the harder it is for the principals to do the work,” Kingsley says of the reason for the small, tight staff.

While that work might involve site visits and in-person meetings, it has always been mainly virtual. Due to Covid, “the world has caught up to us,” adds Kingsley, who lives in Pleasantville.

In nine years, Plan A has done more than 120 projects for such organizations as the Darien Library; Fairfield County’s Community Foundation in Norwalk; the Greenwich Library; the JCC of Mid-Westchester; The Mount Kisco Interfaith Food Pantry; Mount Pleasant Public Library; NewYork-Presbyterian; Ramapo for Children, serving those with special learning and/or behavioral needs; the UJA Federation of New York; and the Westchester Reform Temple. (We first met Kingsley at the recent fundraising luncheon for Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, The Fund for Women & Girls.)

“Generally, an organization comes to us with one or two needs,” Kingsley says. “Either the organization…wants to plot its strategy for the future or it has a fundraising challenge it has to meet.” Occasionally, he adds, those needs have to be rethought, but that’s only occasionally.

At Plan A, there are what Kingsley calls four buckets of work. First, there’s strategic planning, the where-are-we-going bucket. The strategic plan might include a school or a museum’s need for accreditation from an organization like the Middle States Commission on Higher Education or the American Alliance of Museums. Plan A’s processes and products are designed to fulfill those accreditation requirements, Kingsley adds.

The second bucket is the business plan. “We know where we’re going. Now how are we going to get there?” The third is reserved for nonprofit mergers, helping two entities find common ground. The fourth bucket is all about capital campaigns, including feasibility studies.

“We start every project with three months of research,” he says, which includes one-on-one interviews and focus groups. He likens the process to an hourglass, with the top half about research that is squeezed into the decision-making middle. The bottom half of the hourglass is the implementation of the decision or “where the rubber meets the road.”

Growing up in South Florida, Kingsley always knew he’d be involved with nonprofits, because he was in love with art. In Manhattan, he earned a Bachelor  of Arts degree in art history from Columbia University, a Master of Arts degree in American civilization from New York University and an M.B.A. from Baruch College with a concentration in management. Prior to assuming the presidency of The Whelan Group, he was executive director of the American Jewish Historical Society in Manhattan and a deputy director of the International Center of Photography in Manhattan and of the Brooklyn Public Library. He was also president of the Brooklyn Public Library Foundation.

His nonprofit-studded résumé also includes the New Museum and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, both in Manhattan, and the Prospect Park Alliance in Brooklyn.

He and his wife, a professor at Hunter College in Manhattan, live in the Pleasantville Usonia community that legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright created to marry nature and design through the use of materials like wood and stone in modern structures that let the outdoors in.

Architecture is a passion for Kingsley, as are cars, and he’s proud that his two daughters are making their way in related industries that were once reserved for men. One works for Sciame Construction LLC and is a project manager on The Frick Collection expansion in Manhattan. The other is in management, currently corporate treasury, at Volkswagen Group of America Inc.

For them, there’s no need for plan b.

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