I always thought I was going to be an environmental lawyer. I cared about the environment and liked arguing with people.
When I was a child, we used to go camping and visit a lot of national parks around the country. I was also conscious of urban sprawl as a youth and wanted to figure out how to plan cities better.
In high school I did mock trials. I had a teacher who got me interested in law. I did an internship in college working for the United Methodist Church’s Department of Environmental Justice. But when I took the LSAT, I realized that test-taking was not my forte.
I ended up taking the graduate school route. Since I was in the District, politics was the natural way to go. I did well on my GRE and got into the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University, with a concentration in fundraising.
I thought I would work for Congress on environmental planning issues. But when I took a class on fundraising, where we had to pick a nonprofit group and write a fundraising letter for it, I was hooked.
I was paired with a mentor who ran a fundraising company. She offered me a job and I stayed there for 12 years.
Early on I noticed that I was good at understanding what clients wanted. I’m perceptive and can take their concerns, assuage them and fix their problems. I always did right by the client. They knew that. I wasn’t flashy. I was a credible, competent person who they knew would take care of them.
Then our company landed a big contract.
I don’t think anyone realized how big it would be at the time, but it was monumental.
We landed the contract to raise money for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial for seven years. I led that account, and we built up the house file from 6,600 to 120,000 individuals. When I went to the opening of the memorial and watched President Obama speak, it was special because I knew I contributed to that.
It definitely was the highlight of my career.
Even when there were construction issues, as fundraisers we had to keep people excited about giving.
At the end of that assignment I realized it was time for me to move on to something bigger.
I enjoyed working with larger nonprofits.
I saw that CDR Fundraising Group was a much bigger company.
I came in as agency director and became president.
Now at the helm, I want to grow and run a top-notch agency.
— Interview with Vanessa Small
President of CDR Fundraising Group, a direct-marketing corporation based in Bowie, Md.
Career highlights: Vice president of client services of the Lukens Co.; founder of Next Step Training Program; deputy press secretary for Rep. Charles Whitlow Norwood Jr. (R-Ga.).
Education: BA, environmental geology and history, Case Western Reserve University; MA, political management, George Washington University.
Personal: Lives in Annandale with husband, Steve, and daughter, Coralyn.