PMA Consulting was started in February of 2009 by Patton McDowell, after spending 20 years with several nonprofit organizations. The firm, originally named Patton McDowell & Associates LLC, began working with nonprofits and educational institutions in the areas of organizational and philanthropic consulting.
Special Olympics International
McDowell first got his start in the nonprofit sector working for Special Olympics International in Washington D.C. as the result of an internship while in college at UNC Chapel Hill. His time working closely with founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver allowed him a fascinating view into the complex environment of an international nonprofit organization with multi-national range and great connectivity to both its state and local entities.
The consulting mindset started to take shape after McDowell moved back to North Carolina as Program Director for the state’s Special Olympics program based in Raleigh. The diversity in size and scope of the local programs, spanning 85 of the 100 NC counties, required him to “think like a consultant” assessing varied local environments and helping develop strategies to advance the program. For seven years, McDowell developed state and local training and competition programs, and helped grow the organization’s 18 Olympic-style programs.
Following his Special Olympics experience, McDowell spent ten years in higher education, which further developed his nonprofit consulting enthusiasm. Encouraged by outstanding leaders like Chancellor Jim Leutze (UNC Wilmington) and President Pamela Davies (Queen’s University of Charlotte), McDowell continued to work with local nonprofits while serving as the chief fundraiser for both universities. A number of strategic planning projects and board and staff facilitations further fueled his enthusiasm for nonprofit consulting.
Early Days of PMA Consulting
As PMA Consulting started in early 2009, McDowell went on a “Listening Tour” across the state of North Carolina, meeting with over 75 leaders within the nonprofit sector, including staff, board and volunteer members of organizations both large and small.
This time learning about key issues was an invaluable orientation to what these organizations were facing, particularly as the economy endured a significant downturn. McDowell’s goal was clear: avoid being another “cookie-cutter firm” that failed to adapt to an organization’s needs and unique environmental factors, like several he himself had hired in the past. From the issues brought out in his discussions with organizations, PMA’s “Keys to Nonprofit Excellence” was developed.
PMA’s first two clients symbolically represented everything McDowell was trying to do in establishing the firm. The American Red Cross Carolinas Chapter in Charlotte and the Elizabeth City Pasquotank School Foundation showcased the firm’s goal of adapting based on the specific needs of both large and small organizations while staying away from cookie-cutter solutions that do not always necessarily work.
Over the years, the “Keys to Nonprofit Success” have remained largely the same, even as the firm expands the resources associated with each element:
- Sharpen your Vision
- Develop Your Talent
- Seek Your Alliances
- Attack Your Fundraising Cycle
- Evaluate & Innovate
Within these keys, “Attacking Your Fundraising Cycle” has become a second framework around which the firm is built. PMA reinforces the point that fundraising is more than just asking for money. An entire curriculum has been built around the five distinct stages of identifying, communicating, cultivating, soliciting, and stewarding donors. Using this curriculum, PMA is able to design a program tailored to each organization seeking help.
Additionally, the Fund Development Cycle has become an excellent individual training module that allows a board member to see how they can best fit into the fund development process and help, even if uncomfortable in directly soliciting funds.
Strengthening the Firm and Our Clients
PMA Consulting continues to evaluate three strategic variables in order to strengthen the services offered to its clients.
Our regional presence is a benefit to our clients. While we are strong in our home-base of Charlotte, our work takes us across North and South Carolina and other nearby states. The result is a clientele that is as diverse as the communities they serve. We do not specialize in any one market or community.
- Sectors of Our Work
PMA Consulting takes the stance that having sector diversity is good for our clients as well. While we have individual strengths that suggest we could specialize in any one sector (such as healthcare, education, human services), PMA has intentionally maintained a diverse set of clientele.
Our work with over 160 organizations gives us depth in individual sectors while creating greater diversity across all sectors. We look at a variety of nonprofit components, from volunteer, staff, and board management, to fund development, strategy, and programing. PMA is able to isolate to a specific sector or size of an organization, and cross-reference as well.
- Strategy & Talent
Strategy – More and more, strategy can best define what PMA does as a firm. While we are comfortable in any form of strategic planning and implementation, we don’t aim to be labeled as a capital campaign firm. PMA prefers broader strategic partnerships with organizations.
Talent – PMA firmly believes that an organization is no better than the people associated with it. No amount of strategy or fundraising will compensate for inadequate talent. PMA assists with executive search, but also staff and board development and training. An organization must have clarity in their vision and an effective strategy, but the identification, orientation, and retention of talent at all levels is equally crucial. When clear on strategy and effective in utilization of talent, PMA knows an organization can have overall success with their goals, including fund development.