AFP Member Spotlight: Allison Plattsmier
December 5, 2018
Allison Quintanilla Plattsmier, CFRE, CNP, SHRM-CP, aPHR is one of our 2018 Outstanding Young Professionals. In our Spotlight Q&A, she talks about what drives her, being an executive director at an early age, and how she merges her professional and personal lives very closely.
What is your title and organization right now?
At the time of receiving the award from AFP, I was serving as executive director of the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature (TISL) Foundation. TISL is a statewide nonprofit that conducts an annual legislative session led by college students from across Tennessee, providing them with an education about Tennessee state government and a channel to express their opinions on state issues. This model legislature convenes in the State Capitol for four days in November. It consists of a Senate and a House of Representatives, which debate bills that are produced wholly by the students. The Supreme Court consists of judges and lawyers participating in the Appellate Moot Court Collegiate Challenge (AMC3), and students also have the option to work as lobbyists or members of the media. Ultimately, TISL aims to prepare college students for jobs in public service through an immersive, hands-on experience.
Due to my growing family, I left TISL to start my own consulting firm, AQP Consulting. I handle all of the grant writing for four organizations, plan/fundraise for special events on a contract basis, provide contract bookkeeping/financial management, and handle small program coordination for organizations that can't afford staff. I am also founder of both the Nashville and Chattanooga chapters of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network and chief executive officer of a nonprofit called Close the Loop that is funded through the Clorox Grant for Young Changemakers.
You started fundraising at an early age. Did you want to be a fundraiser growing up or be involved in the philanthropic sector? What led you to get involved in all of those activities?
When I was 16, I remember watching a benefit concert with Diana DeGarmo. While watching the benefit concert, I thought to myself, “If I were to die today, would I be happy with the impact I’ve made in this world?” I realized that I didn’t feel like I had contributed much to society or really cared for others outside of my personal circle. I always had a passion for music, so I decided to host my own benefit concert for Habitat for Humanity. I worked tirelessly on it for months and ended up raising about $400. This was a huge deal for me at the time. I realized that I loved hosting events and helping raise money for causes, so I signed up to be a team leader for the Tennessee Kidney Foundation’s Gift of Life Walk. The first year I participated, I led the highest fundraising school team with over $1,500, and then the following year I was the 5th highest individual fundraiser. After my second year as a team leader, I realized that fundraising was my calling and knew I wanted to pursue a career in the philanthropic sector.
How did those experiences affect your outlook for your future jobs and the profession in general?
I think after seeing the power of volunteer fundraising, I was more appreciative of those that pursue it as a profession. I had to work hard to raise the money that I did in high school, and I truly admired those that did it year-round and on a much larger scale.
How did you get your first job in the fundraising profession/philanthropic sector? What was it like? What excited you the most?
My first paid job in the fundraising profession was special events intern for the American Diabetes Association. I loved it. I was in charge of fundraising for the Chattanooga Tour de Cure, and I really got to take full ownership of the event. I recruited teams, secured sponsorships, procured silent auction donations, and helped with day of logistics. It was a large-scale event that ended up raising over $400,000 and it was amazing to see months of hard work pay off in a very successful event. I wouldn’t say there was anything that particularly surprised me, but I definitely had a learning opportunity when it began downpouring in the middle of the century ride, and we had to logistically figure out how to get 800 or so riders diverted back to HQ.
It didn’t take you long to become an executive director? Why did you want to become an executive director? How is it different than just a pure fundraising position?
I was honestly shocked to become an ED at the age of 22. Being an executive director was truly my long-term career goal, and I don’t take for granted that I was able to garner the respect and knowledge required in order to be entrusted with a position like that so early in my career. I think what appeals to me about being an executive director is the ability to wear a lot of hats. Fundraising is and will always be my #1 passion, but I also love people. I’m fascinated by HR management and putting policies in place to recruit, retain, and engage a highly skilled, motivated staff. I love the strategic planning process, helping develop boards, and ensuring financial stability. I think executive director positions, at least at the smaller organizations I have had the opportunity to work for, give you the opportunity to thrive in many different facets of management and develop a wide skill base. I also love being a community liaison and helping build partnerships, which I think is a huge part of being an executive director and I believe goes hand in hand with fundraising.
You have already received the Certified Fund Raising Executive. Why was it important for you to become certified?
I am a firm believer in the power of continuing education. I believe we are all a constant work in progress and, as a leader, I believe that if I ever stop trying to grow and learn, I am failing my team and my organization. Additionally, as a young professional, I believe the CFRE gives me a little more credibility when searching for positions. It is easy to be discounted based on age or perceived lack of experience as a result of age, but the CFRE gives me something tangible to express my success in fundraising, my experience, and my commitment to ethical fundraising practices.
What are you most proud of in your career so far?
I have to say I consider getting the Outstanding Young Professional award the pinnacle of my career to date. But if I had to name one fundraising achievement I am most proud of, I would say the Nashville Downtown Derby Bed Race. I was hired as the special events coordinator for the T.J. Martell Foundation and tasked with launching the inaugural Nashville Downtown Derby Bed Race. For a first-year event, we were anticipating bringing in $20,000-$30,000. However, through leveraging community partnerships, peer networks, and corporate sponsorships, we were able to raise over $70,000. It was a phenomenal inaugural event and helped create a legacy that still exists today.
I would say start out volunteering as much as you can. As a young professional, I believe the only reason I was able to rise through the ranks so quickly was by pointing to my successes as a volunteer fundraiser. If you can prove that you can raise significant funds as a volunteer, companies will be eager to see what you can do as a paid staff member. Additionally, I would say network, network, network. Find the people that are in the roles you want to be in, learn about how they got there, and seek their guidance as you break into the profession. I would be nowhere without all of the phenomenal mentors I have had throughout the years.
Has it been easy to find and network with other young professionals? What do you do (if anything)?
Nashville has an extremely vibrant networking community. I joined the Young Nonprofit Professionals Affinity Network through the Center for Nonprofit Management and founded two chapters of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network that allowed me to meet many young professionals across the sector. Additionally, I participated in Music City Young Professionals, Network Under 40, and Network After Work events to meet people outside of the sector and form potential funding partnerships for the future.
What has your experience with AFP been like?
My experience with AFP has been phenomenal. AFP has allowed me the chance to meet many of the top fundraising professionals in Nashville and by attending this year’s international conference, I was able to meet some outstanding fundraisers across the country that have helped me learn more effective strategies to engage my target donor base. I find the educational opportunities available through both my local AFP chapter and AFP Global a wonderful resource. The speed of my progression as a fundraising professional significantly increased as soon as I made the investment in an AFP membership.
What is the biggest challenge, in your mind, that the profession faces right now?
I believe the profession is facing a multitude of challenges. First, I believe learning how to target and effectively mobilize the millennial generation is an ongoing adjustment for many fundraising professionals. Millennials care very deeply about supporting their community and their intrinsic motivation for service needs to be captured first through engagement and volunteerism before solicitation for funds. They require a more long-term, intensive engagement process. Additionally, the recent changes to charitable deductions [in the tax bill enacted into law in December 2017] will be an adjustment in targeting high-profile donors and major gifts. Finally, the profession needs to figure out an effective way to target the aging Boomer generation and shift focus towards planned giving as the significant transfer of wealth occurs between the generations.
How do you balance work and your personal life?
My work and personal lives are very intertwined because I like to spend much of my free time volunteering. I enjoy being active in the community, so I spend most of my weekends helping out at a special event or working on board responsibilities/committee engagements. I also try to blend my social life into this passion by incorporating service opportunities into time with friends. This not only introduces my friends to worthwhile causes but increases the impact that is made. In achieving a work/life balance, particularly in a position that is entirely remote, I have created set start and end times to ensure I am able to stop working. Many organizations worry about people not working as hard when they are working remotely, but I have found the opposite to be true. When I work from home, I have a difficult time stopping work because the lines are blurred between the office and home. I have also disconnected my email from my phone which has made it easier to only engage with work-related tasks during my set work hours.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Outside of volunteering, I enjoy singing karaoke, playing trivia, kickboxing, and competing in triathlons.
Three of your favorite songs now, or all-time?
Sara Bareilles: She Used to Be Mine
Selena: Dreaming of You
Current book you’re reading (or show you’re watching, binging or otherwise!)?
Start with Why by Simon Sinek
Long night of working ahead. What do you order out for dinner? (Or make?)
I never get tired of the classic Cajun Chicken Alfredo.
You’re one of our first Outstanding Young Professionals. What do you think when you first got the news?
I was shocked! And honestly, after researching Dzenan Berberovic, AFP’s other Outstanding Young Professional in 2018, I was even more shocked because I didn’t consider my accomplishments to be anywhere near the magnitude of his. It was a truly humbling experience that let me know that I must be doing something right. They always say if you do something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. That is truly how I feel about fundraising. It is a joy to wake up every day and help raise money (both paid and unpaid) for various worthy causes. In doing so, I believe I am fulfilling my purpose to make a difference in the lives of others. To be recognized for doing what I love and what I feel is my purpose is what makes this award so monumental and significant to me.