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New at the top: Allison Porter of Avalon Consulting Group

By Interview with Vanessa Small,

So many people end up in fundraising completely by accident.

I was one of them.

In college, my big dream was to travel Europe and work in the Foreign Service. When I didn’t pass the Foreign Service exam, I took an internship that changed the entire course of my career.

It was at a public relations firm that was supposed to be a temporary way for me to earn a living until I could retake the exam. But after three months, they hired me full time.

It wasn’t my ideal job. I got quick exposure to corporate hierarchy and what a difficult working arrangement looked like.

We were told on a regular basis that if we didn’t like our job, there were 10 other people who would take our position in a heartbeat.

That has stayed with me my whole career.

I learned the importance of setting a tone in a company that values other people, their participation and involvement.

It didn’t take me long to realize that I didn’t want this company to get the best of me. I wanted a job where I was challenged on a regular basis and was not watching the clock all day.

I worked as an intern at my school’s development office and saw that I loved raising funds for a major college.

One day, I saw an advertisement in The Washington Post for an entry-level assistant at a consulting firm [that worked with nonprofits]. I was hired as their first full-time employee.

I developed the right instincts as a fundraiser and knew the right strategies to put in place for clients.

Eventually I was put in charge of training new staff and interfacing with our clients to make sure that strategies and services were meeting expectations.

After 31 / 2 years, the founder asked me to join her in creating Avalon Consulting. The former company had a much more limited scope so we wanted to do more strategic consulting and partnering.

Sometimes you can get hung up on the tactics of how a nonprofit is fundraising. I learned that it’s so important to understand the goals of an organization. Is it to build a million members? Is it to raise the most net dollars? Or is it a little bit of both? You have to make sure you’re addressing them strategically and not in a reactionary way.

One of my proudest achievements was launching our online division.

Though many nonprofits raise the bulk of their money through direct mail, the digital arena is growing exponentially. A lot of our clients had fledging online programs and it became clear that in order to meet our clients’ donors, you have to be everywhere so that when it strikes someone to make a gift, we can be front and center.

We hired a director of online fundraising to help implement programs for our clients. By the end of the third year, every one of our clients whose full service program we managed had a very comprehensive online program in place. It has been very successful.

We had 18 percent growth last year, 21 percent growth this year and project 22 percent growth next year.

Though my dream was to have an international job, fundraising shifted me away from that. But I discovered working with these many nonprofit organizations is what gets me up in the morning.

And by proxy, I am helping to do things like save the environment, strengthen photo protection and help further political candidates.

Interview with Vanessa Small

Allison Porter Position: President of Avalon Consulting Group, a marketing firm based in the District. Career highlights: Executive vice president, Avalon Consulting Group; vice president and director of client services, Avalon Consulting Group; director of client services, Avalon Consulting Group; program manager, Herzog Swayze; executive assistant, Edelman Public Relations. Age: 40 Education: BA, Hamilton College. Personal: Lives in Annapolis with husband Greg Barranco and two sons, Luke and Alex.

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