Amelia Williamson is CEO and Chief Strategist of AWA Consults. AWA is a boutique social impact agency whose mission is to build bridges across philanthropy, community, and influence. AWA provides philanthropic advising, organizational development and strategy building specializing in services for high impact individuals and organizations. A strong believer in service, Amelia is a leader and member of several boards and commissions in Southern California.
The Philanthropic Therapist
It was her dream. Amelia Williamson had always wanted to work in public relations and marketing. She got the gig—in the big fancy office, working on big fancy projects.
Then suddenly, bam! Amelia realized it wasn’t the career she’d hoped for. The projects were big, but the results were ephemeral, and not as interesting as she had anticipated.
What was she looking for? Something with heart and purpose. She wanted to touch, connect, create, and build. She wanted projects that led to change: work that supported communities she cared about. She wanted to be intentional about her work. Eventually Amelia settled in working with the legendary Pat Tobin at Tobin and Associates, a pioneer public relations agency recognized for its work in the African-American community. Amelia realized she had landed where she was meant to be. It was here she began to thrive and grow.
After leaving Tobin and Associates, Amelia continued to pursue working for good. After stints at the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles and Junior Achievement of Southern California, Amelia knew she was on the right track. Soon the Magic Johnson Foundation called. Faced with an unclear job description, Amelia rewrote the position during the interview and eventually became President of the Foundation.
As a leader, Amelias knew that purpose had to harmonize with function: that an organization needed to be built on a solid platform in order to accomplish its goals. As a consultant, she continues to follow this approach with her clients by implementing processes and structures that allow them to be successful in their investments. With no shortage of good intentions and ideas, donors want to see their assets well spent. They want to see impact. Frequently, though, philanthropists know only that there’s a need and that they want to be part of a solution — they don’t know how to get there. Amelia helps them build a platform for success.
“Infrastructure is key.”
Often called the “Philanthropic Therapist” by her clients, Amelia focuses on finding and addressing her clients’ pain points: “their desire to do more, understand more, and connect more.” Frequently, donors aren’t familiar with underlying issues and communities they want to help. Amelia guides her clients through “issues, geography and social trends: key variables affecting success.” It’s imperative that philanthropists and donors “stay connected to the field; understand the need. It’s my job to keep them informed.”
Often clear and focused on mission, philanthropists and nonprofits frequently get tripped up on capacity and infrastructure. “Building capacity is expensive but well worth the investment,” according to Amelia.
The question arises from Amelia’s work with donors: “go deep” or “go broad”? According to Amelia, it doesn’t have to be an either/or. She believes the answer has to be “both/and”: the issues and needs in our various communities require commitments from diverse and committed philanthropists who have the heart, desire, and means to help. There is a need to go deep and tackle specific problems and issues. And there must be a way to broadly scale the work: to solicit more help, resources, and engagement in order to support and expand large undertakings.
It just takes time and commitment. And, sometimes, a therapist.