Amanda Taylor Marshall ’97
Amanda Marshall ’97 deserves an award if for no other reason than this: No one has ever seen her in a bad mood.
In her work as founder of Fair Chance, a nonprofit that provides expert consulting to direct-service community organizations, teaching them how to stay in business and be more effective, Amanda has come across plenty of discouraging scenarios. As the mother of four little boys in four years, she prevails amidst chaos that would make even Mother Teresa peevish. Yet through it all, she retains a dogged positivity, a sense of humor and an optimism that everything will work out.
Tobias Dengel, Fair Chance’s first board member at its launch 10 years ago, calls it “almost annoying.”
Amanda’s energy and confidence in success have fueled her accomplishments. As a freshman at UNC, she organized a chapter of Operation Smile, which raised thousands of dollars in her four years on campus and earned her the North Carolina Statewide Humanitarian Award. The chapter continues to raise money for children nearly 20 years later. After graduating from the honors program with a degree in economics, she signed on with a consulting firm in New York to learn how to make businesses thrive.
Her passion for helping children persisted, and she worked a few stints at nonprofits in New York to learn their special needs. Then she took her knowledge and experience, along with her husband, Alex, and a business plan, to Washington, D.C., where she saw pockets of deep poverty in the shadow of icons to our nation’s greatness.
The first nonprofit that Fair Chance backed didn’t work out, due to the high turnover of staff from outside the community. Amanda realized that the most successful nonprofits would be run from within the community by the people who lived there. That’s when she put high heels to pavement and began knocking on doors in housing projects in low-income neighborhoods to find people already investing in their own community who could benefit from knowing how to write grants, put together a board, increase fundraising and expand their reach.
The expert advice from Fair Chance consultants doesn’t cost nonprofits any money, only time and willingness to change. Nonprofits make a one-year commitment to make time to implement new ideas and practices that they have to take on faith. But it works. Over the past decade, Fair Chance has partnered with more than 65 organizations, improving the lives of more than 55,000 of the most at-risk youth in D.C. and increasing the capacity, effectiveness and sustainability of the nonprofits. On average, the nonprofits double the number of children they serve and triple their fundraising with the expertise and tools Fair Chance provides.
Washington Life Magazine recognized Amanda’s impact by naming her its 2005 Woman of Substance and Style. Her style showed itself, said Maria Nagorski, Fair Chance’s executive director, at a dinner she attended with Amanda and a few thousand other people to hear Warren Buffett speak. She and Amanda were relegated to a table in the back “where the nonprofits sit,” Nagorski said, and Amanda announced she was going to meet Warren Buffet. Before the event broke up, Amanda was shaking hands and chatting with Buffett. The photo is on her Facebook page.
Amanda’s substance came through when, midway through her fourth pregnancy, she had a stroke that took part of her vision from one eye. Yet after giving birth to a healthy baby boy, she trained for and completed a triathlon this past year.
The credibility from her UNC degree opened doors as she began cold-calling potential financial supporters. In the past few years, Amanda has increased Fair Chance’s fundraising by 500 percent, all the more difficult for an organization that is a step removed from tugging on heartstrings.
Amanda followed the advice of Erskine Bowles ’67 to “under-promise and over-deliver” and has grown Fair Chance to a staff of 13, and these days nonprofits knock on her door. Fair Chance continues to flourish, even though she no longer is involved in its day-to-day operation. But she still works on development and strategy as a board member. In the near future, she may expand her business model to high-need neighborhoods in other cities. When she’s not with her boys, she’s focused on Fair Chance.
After all, she said, “Fair Chance was my first child.”
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