Fairmount InSights

Anneliese Van Arsdale, Project Manager, assists clients in all facets of resource development, from grant writing to capital campaign management. She leans on her frontlines experience to inform her understanding of the challenges clients face as she helps them pursue strategic goals, embark on big projects and seek financial sustainability. Anneliese earned a B.A. from Kenyon College, where she studied dance and drama.

FV: Before joining the team at Fairmount Ventures, you worked extensively in the Philly arts community. How have these previous experiences impacted your work at Fairmount?

AVA: Working in the arts scene in Philadelphia over the last decade gave me a crash course in nonprofit management. Arts organizations – theatres, in particular, where I spent the beginning of my career – grapple with all of the challenges that are emblematic of the sector as a whole. Theatres are rarely large institutions; they are highly dependent on private giving from individuals and foundations, and many are also responsible for managing their own buildings. From selling tickets and cleaning bathrooms, to writing major funding proposals and facilitating board meetings, working in the arts means jumping in where needed, solving problems on the fly, and, above all else, making sure the audience is happy. These skills are necessary for all nonprofit professionals, as the challenges facing the sector are not easily solved. Yet, the show must go on, the services must be provided and the doors must be kept open. I draw on these experiences daily, as my job requires me to understand our clients’

perspectives, to anticipate their needs and to provide realistic strategic advice that will help them solve their problems and achieve their goals.

FV: What does a typical day look like for you?

AVA: My work at Fairmount varies from day-to-day and hour-by-hour. A typical day for me involves a little bit (or a lot, depending on the day) of writing, research, planning, scheduling and participating in meetings.  Whether I’m developing a large report, drafting a meeting agenda or responding to client concerns, I spend a lot of time figuring out how to ask the right questions to unlock unexpected answers, or examining problems from a new perspective.

FV: You’re a former actor – would you say you use any aspects of your theater training when you’re strategizing for your clients at Fairmount?

AVA: Performing is great training for a range of communication skills – from basics like how to project your voice and articulate your words, to more complex skills like how to be an active listener. One truth about acting is that the very best actors are also the very best listeners. When you’re performing, a significant part of your job is to react – to your fellow actors, to the audiences’ responses, to unexpected situations, etc. If you’re not paying close attention, you might miss your cue, not realize that your scene partner is faltering on a line, or worse, that your performance is simply falling flat. In addition to basic public speaking skills, acting trains you to be a sensitive and receptive listener, which is really at the heart of all meaningful communication.

FV: What’s one of the most memorable projects you’ve worked on at Fairmount?

AVA: I’m in the midst of working with Special Olympics Pennsylvania (SOPA), and have been so inspired by the staff’s commitment and passion for the mission. We recently had the opportunity to attend SOPA’s Fall Fest at Villanova, and I was able to watch a bocce tournament in a packed gym filled with competing athletes and their coaches, who were joined by their family, friends, fellow athletes and Villanova student volunteers, all cheering the athletes on. It was moving to see SOPA’s work in action and to feel the positive energy and abundant joy emanating from that gym. As consultants, we don’t always get to see the impacts of our clients’ work firsthand, so it was a memorable and meaningful experience to see SOPA’s mission in action.

FV: What are some of your favorite parts about Philadelphia?

AVA: There are so many things I love about Philadelphia; it’s hard to even pick just a few. Probably my favorite thing about Philly is that it’s a “small big city.” You run into people you know all the time, and it’s both walkable and rideable, though I do feel strongly that our city could benefit from improved safety infrastructure and a public awareness campaign about city cycling.

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