FYI Blog

Avalon Dispatch 08.08.2023

This week, the @AvalonFYI dispatch highlights hip hop, digital cultivation, inclusive language, viral marketing, purpose-driven boards, and the Avalon Swifties!

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Dear friends,

It was wonderful to see so many of you at the Bridge Conference last week. I enjoyed sharing “30 ideas that WOWed us” with Tiffany Neill and Mwosi Swenson, and I caught several great panels from the audience. I hope you were as inspired—and had as much fun—as Avalon.

Avalon staff pose with a cardboard cutout of Taylor SwiftAvalon Swifties at Bridge (L-R): Rebecca Shapalis, Kristin Dlesk, Dara Igersheim, Allison Porter, Tay Tay, Jackie Libby, Nova Cohen-Prohow, and Kathy Criser

Speaking of great events, the National Museum of African American History and Culture will host its Hip Hop Block Party this Saturday, August 12. The event marks the 50th anniversary of the birth of hip hop at a party in the Bronx on August 11, 1973. Due to overwhelming popularity, all passes have been claimed, but it’s not too late to join the waitlist. If you can’t make it in person, you can view last year’s highlights on the museum’s YouTube channel. And be sure to check out Mahogany L. Browne’s love letter to hip hop, “composed entirely of lyrics both beloved and obscure, with a little remixing,” in the New York Times.

In fundraising this week, senior VP and director of digital innovation Mary Meredith shared an interesting case study from M+R on the power of digital cultivation. They tested email cultivation to assess the impact on year-end email appeals. One important finding is that their test both lifted email response (+11%) and improved revenue per donor across all digital channels (+22%). This aligns with Avalon’s approach, which treats cultivation as a building block for strategy. However, I would take it one step further to consider the impact of cultivation on performance across all channels, not just digital. It is important to understand not only how each campaign and channel performs, but also how they impact the overall donor journey.

For creative inspiration, marketing VP Barb Perell pointed out a noteworthy collaboration between World Wildlife Fund Germany and ad agency McCann Germany. The campaign leverages Twitter’s “X” rebranding, making a visual connection between the extinction of the bird logo and real endangered species. It’s a great example of how nonprofits can use a viral moment to advance mission and message.

To support DEI, analytics VP Sarah Birnie shared an article by the WomenTech Network on how to use more inclusive language at work. Strategies include care with pronouns, replacing gendered language, checking idioms for cultural sensitivity, and avoiding language that is rooted in or perpetuates racism. Most of all, the authors emphasize assessing, challenging, and replacing discriminatory language. (Blue Duck’s annual “words to avoid” are a good example.)

On a leadership note, Stanford Social Innovation Review published a thought-provoking article on purpose-driven boards. It grabbed my attention because this is also a tenet of the SALA leadership community. Traditional boards, author Anne Wallestad explains, put the organization and its continued existence first. However, a purpose-driven board focuses on advancing the organization’s purpose. It’s a nuanced reframing that considers the entire change ecosystem and prioritizes social outcomes. This point on the “unique charge” of nonprofit boards is good food for thought:

Purpose-driven board leadership makes explicit what is different about social sector governance (as opposed to corporate governance) and how more traditional ways of thinking about nonprofit governance fail to acknowledge the unique charge of social sector organizations and the boards that lead them. Applying purpose-driven board leadership principles means leaning into the pursuit of a social good purpose at an ecosystem level and a shift away from protectionism and self-promotion at an organizational level.

Finally, I’m encouraging our staff (and everyone) to take a summer vacation if they haven’t already. Fall is an intense and hectic time, especially for fundraisers, and it helps to rest up in advance. It’s not too late to get away before the busy season kicks into high gear!

Take care,


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Allison Porter, President
Avalon Consulting Group
202-429-6080 ext. 102