Set up to fail? Reverse is also true.

I am grateful to see this truth telling about what it can mean to have an idea and start a nonprofit. The gist of the story is that a talented well-intentioned person had an idea, won a pitch contest and secured $1 Million in seed funding, and now, three years later, is closing down the nonprofit they started because they have “been unable to identify a sustainable financial model for (the) broad vision”.

I totally get it.


We launched Counter Tools in 2012 with an idea and an opportunity: A $50,000 contract with a nonprofit organization in one midwestern state. Months later we secured 501c(3) status on a fee-for-service educational services contracting model.

Over the years we fixed software bugs, added software functionality, tweaked our training materials, revamped our training materials, revitalized our software… all the time alternately disappointing and delighting ourselves and our loyal and growing tribe.  We almost sank. We swam. We worried about sinking. We swam harder. Today we keep swimming.

Today we work in 18 states. Our FY16 tax return will show $1.1 Million in revenue. We aim each day to never lose sight of the value of the partnerships we have created. We have people who believe in us, and they show it by navigating bureaucracy to secure contracts and book training schedules.

What’s the difference between Counter Tools and any other fledgling nonprofit? One could say we are all set up to fail from the start. One could also say we are all set up to succeed from the start.

I’m going with the latter. And, I’m going back to work now. Today is the day I settle on a pricing strategy for our newest software tool: asking our tribe to support what it really costs to break new ground and make an impact.

Onward for health!





“Racism is not a personal moral failing”

It’s completely unacceptable that Eric and I can drive around with a burned out tail light (as we are right now), and not fear being pulled over by police, not fear being mistreated, not fear being assumed a “problem”, because we are white. I even spoke those words out loud a few days ago, in a moment of disgusting (to myself), unfiltered, and sadly truthful jest —  “Don’t worry about the tail light, we are white people so we won’t die because of that.”

What I would like everyone (EVERYONE!) to please give space to, is that we are all part of a larger system. This is about each of us, personally, only in the sense that we must collectively fix the system that creates unfair advantage for some, and unfair disadvantage for others.

That means, white people, if you think you got to where you are (comparatively rich, educated, “law abiding”, with a sense of control over your life) because you did it all by yourself — without any help from “the system” — you know, you pulled yourself up by your bootstraps — you are woefully uninformed. Sure you worked hard; I know you did. My Papa went from orphan son of a drunk tobacco sharecropper (named Allison) to the senior most Captain in the US Navy, when he retired in the 1980’s. He worked hard! And the system helped him up, just like the system helped to keep others down.

I welcome a conversation with anyone who’d like to talk, in love and truth and theory and evidence. Just watch this first:

With love from Asheville,


Charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent

RuPaul is my shero.

RuPaul and the Drag Race girls give each of us permission, and encouragement, to be whatever or whomever we’d like to be. Whether you’d like padded hips or pink heart-shaped lips, HUGE orange hair, a boy chest, towering heels, madonna realness or whatever… Use your charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent to make the world more beautiful.


Why do you do what you do?

Y’all remember this?

Yesterday, at the request of a stranger with a fancy title and a PhD, I took a half hour meeting with a company that I have partnered with on one past project.

I will never get that time back.

In the 20 minutes we were together (the requester was 10 minutes late to their own call), I got slimed. The person announced they were new to the company (obv). Asked me to talk about my work (If you don’t know who I am, why did you ask to meet with me?). Interrupted and didn’t listen to the answers (Spiraling the drain here!). Urged me to “get back to them either way” if I am, or am not, interested in engaging their for-profit company.

Those are not my people.

May our evaluation metrics show that we give back more value than we take.

We got married: May 9, 2016

Eric Vandervort and I have been a team, really, since the first day we met in March 2011. It was spring of my first year of the PhD program at Carolina. I was taking Bud McCallum’s linear regression course (the next-to-last-year he taught it; yes, I’m lucky), and had regular SAS homework in the HB methods course. I was up to my ears in graduate school and still trying desperately to do my work, well, at innovation Management (thank you Kevin and Ann for putting up with me). Neither nor Counter Tools existed yet.

Eric would take me out on the boat and I would read and study in the sunshine while he caught bass after bass. I remember the first day on the boat. “Put this on.” I didn’t want to wear my life jacket, snippy smart ass Allison. “You have no idea how fast this boat goes, do you?” So I did.

Here it is in writing folks: Eric is generally right.

So on Friday evening, May 6th, when he announced that it was time to get married after several years of discussion, and at least a fair amount of occasional pestering on my part, I agreed. (Actually he started repeating “Okay!” really loudly from the couch across the room and it took me a while to get it but when I looked and saw the emotion and the repeated “okays”… I got it!)

My family was already in town for the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health “Hooding Ceremony” for PhD graduates, and we would leverage the opportunity.

We made a plan: Keep the whole thing a secret at the hooding ceremony and graduation party. Make the announcement to our family on Sunday evening May 8th, at dinner, and meet them at the court house in Hillsborough on May 9th, when they open.


Dad paid $20 to the Magistrate. After we did the paperwork at the Register of Deeds office, we waited in the tiny lobby of the Magistrate’s office. The same place where you wait in handcuffs if circumstances are different.

Yaya, Mom, Sophia, Allison on a very special day:


Yaya was my witness, which has really been my only wish for a long time. Dad was Eric’s witness, which makes us all extremely happy and fills a Myers tradition of at least two generations.


At some point, I gave the Magistrate ‘a look’, through the glass.


And then we got to finally go stand out in front of the court house and formally declare our intention to be sweet to each other, now and forever more. The vows were read from a crooked photocopy, long since held at the Hillsborough Magistrate office, our names carefully written in the blanks: Eric, Allison, Eric, Allison, the whole page through.

North Carolina, love each other, number one fan, better or worse, sickness health, I do, I do. Lana photographed the whole thing with Kyle on FaceTime from the airport.


And then I tried to eat Eric’s face and body, while he stayed calm, which is our usual:


Here we are, the happy couple, the most exciting kiss ever, dedicated to our one wild and crazy life as the VanderMyers.



Finishing a PhD

It’s strangely anticlimactic, frankly, finishing your PhD.

One day you do a song and dance in front of a crowd, wise elders ask perplexing questions and then say “Congratulations!” (the academic equivalent of “You’ve done enough, dear one”) and then it’s over.

Next comes the doctoral hooding ceremony; it’s a funeral of sorts, marking both an exit and an entry. UNC prints your name, department, dissertation title, and Chair in the program for posterity:

In the program!

And you walk across a stage, draped in the $100 black polyester gown, noting the few graduates whose parents clearly paid for the $700 premium, silky Carolina-blue gown.

Careful not to trip on the stairs.

At center stage you receive your doctoral hood. Careful not to knock off the hat. Smile for the camera! A man, the Provost? – What does he do?, says “I know how much this means.”


Shake the Chancellor’s hand. Take the empty blue tube, with letter as placeholder for your diploma.

Down the stairs. Pose for a picture. Back to your seat.

Eric and me, post-hooding-ceremony, with the hundred-dollar hat.

And that’s it.

OUT into the world you go, fledgling.

Now what: AJ edition

[PhD program update: Defense is in 7 days.]

Yesterday I enjoyed a visit with a dear friend who lives and works in Singapore. It’s a big deal when she comes to town! AJ takes care of me: helps me pick clothes of the right color, delicately encourages an immediate trip through the car wash, coaches me through the emotion I feel when smacked with poverty on a Muni train, sees through my chatter to the real issues.

What was it you said, AJ? Something like “What’s your relationship going to be like, now that you’re getting rid of the third person in the room?”

Thanks for the amazed girl covering mouth with hand image,

AACK! I haven’t thought about it like that. What is LIFE going to be like, now that I CAN’T HIDE because I have “so much work”?!?!

When I woke up in the middle of the night last night, as I do, I googled “phd program recovery” and found sites dedicated mostly to finding a job. I have a job, and it’s not that.

What is it, instead?

Gulp. I’ve got an opportunity to get to know myself again, get to know Eric again, my family, friends, my place in the world. For six years I’ve been hiding: made a(n excellent) choice to pursue this degree, but it’s meant serious sacrifice, especially recently.

Who am I without the elephant on my shoulders, and what does that even FEEL like?

Let’s find out, friends!