Tell us about yourself.
Since I was 10 years old I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I started with my own paper route and neighborhood lawn business, and also had my own tutoring business at one point. After graduating from Virginia Military Institute with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, I worked for NewMarket Corporation and Verizon before leaving to work full-time with Avail.
Avail was started by myself and my business partner Lester Johnson to help non-profit organizations with their fundraising programs. Lester now operates our other business, Mama J?s restaurant in Jackson Ward. While we began with traditional fundraising programs like greeting card sales and candy, we quickly realized that we wanted to be different. Over the years, we have transformed from a traditional fundraising company to a firm that specializes in cause-related marketing. I currently serve as the President of Avail and I?m responsible for the overall vision, strategy and operations of the firm.
What is the focus of your work and what need are you addressing?
Our firm is unique in that we specialize in cause-related marketing and our mission is to help non-profit organizations raise money and awareness. The slogan for the firm is ?The POWER to put PURPOSE to PLAY? and it represents the core of our firm. To achieve our mission, Avail creates, markets and manages charitable events that help non-profit organizations raise money and increase awareness. The company has been fortunate to work for clients such as Chick-fil-A, Henrico County Public Schools Federal Programs and Virginia Commonwealth University. The firm was also awarded a contract to market and manage Excel to Excellence, a non-profit organization founded by Super Bowl Champion, Michael Robinson.
Over the years Avail has found that fundraising and marketing are two consistent challenges for non-profit organizations. The focus of organizations is the actual social cause they are committed to making an impact, and there is often a lack of resources to properly fundraise and build awareness of the organization?s brand. To address this need, Avail adopted a model of producing special events that allow multiple non-profits to fundraise through common events. This eliminates the financial risk to non-profits and significantly decreases the amount of staff time needed to execute the event fundraiser.
A great example of this concept is the VCU Broad Street Mile. This event allows any 501(c)3 organization to register as a partner, and use the event platform to raise money. There is also an opportunity to participate as a vendor to increase awareness for the organization.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
The most rewarding part of my work is meeting so many people in the Richmond community that work in the non-profit world and are making a huge difference. To see the passion that people have for giving back is truly rewarding for us, and seeing how we can help organizations increase their capacity to give, makes it even more rewarding. I?ll never forget the opportunity I had to meet one of the young cancer patients whose family was helped through a charity event we helped organize. The young man?s face lit up when he was handed an autographed football signed by Peyton and Eli Manning. That?s what makes it all worthwhile!
Tell us about your biggest accomplishment in this position and what are some challenges you have faced?
One of my biggest accomplishments in this position was creating a program for one of our clients, Michael Robinson and his Excel to Excellence organization. We designed a program called Team Excel, which uses a ?reverse? fantasy football concept to motivate students to excel in the classroom. The program was recognized by ESPN and the story will be out in late July. We are really excited about the coverage and the early success of the program! There were students that increased their GPA?s over 100%.
Two challenges we face are our small staff size and working as a for-profit business in the non-profit world. To counter the challenge of our staff size, we have to be very strategic with the projects and clients that our firm accepts. Now that we have years of experience, we are able to be more selective and ensure that the projects we accept make sense financially for the size of our firm.
To address the challenge of a for-profit in the non-profit world, we have adapted by implementing new fundraising models such as our strategy of creating events for multiple organizations. Through events such as the VCU Broad Street Mile and our bowling event concepts, we remove the financial risk and time obligations out of event fundraising.
What?s coming next for you?
We have two very exciting projects with the VCU Broad Street Mile event and the Team Excel program. Last year we were fortunate to have VCU believe in the vision for the VCU Broad Street Mile and we look forward to growing this into a major tradition for the city and opportunity for the non-profit community to come together. Working with Michael Robinson and his Excel to Excellence organization, we have a great opportunity to expand the Team Excel concept on a national level. Michael has had conversations with the National Football League and we are also interested in speaking with some of the other major league sports teams to adopt the concept. The ?reverse? fantasy football concept of Team Excel is a great way to engage professional athletes, students and community mentors in a fun program that motivates students to excel.
How does your work empower individuals, advance organizations, and
strengthen the community?
Avail has a direct impact on the community by raising money and awareness for nonprofits. We also believe that our strength is creativity and looking for new ways to promote community involvement for individuals, corporations and the local business community. We also believe in collaboration. Over the years of managing the Soul Bowl event that we created, we have raised over $100,000 for local nonprofits in the Richmond community!
Avail specializes in cause-related marketing and provides marketing, event management and foundation management services to charitable organizations and professional athletes.