One word that is often used to describe Paula Porter is
As the president and chief executive of Easter Seals Oklahoma
since 2007, she has worked to revitalize and revamp the
She excels at fundraising and marketing. When she was director of
development at the American Red Cross of Central and Western
Oklahoma, she raised more than $500,000 for Sumatra tsunami relief
in 2004 and more than $1 million after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
To widen her reach of volunteers and supporters, Porter dove into
the world of social media in 2008. When she needs to organize
hundreds of volunteers in a few weeks, she turns to her Twitter and
Facebook accounts to ask for help and to spread the word.
But when she came to Easter Seals five years ago, she had a lot
to learn about being an executive, said Jack Sullivan, chairman of
the Easter Seals Oklahoma board of directors. Initially, people
management was not something at which she excelled, he said. She
made some mistakes when hiring and firing people, Sullivan said. The
executive board has helped to mentor her, providing leadership on
how to get the right people in the right positions, and how to
"She was in marketing when we hired her," Sullivan said. "She
morphed into a solid CEO."
But that transformation to executive included some mistakes. The
organization embarked on a program to provide children on the autism
spectrum intensive therapy, known as applied behavior analysis. Each
of the 15 children enrolled had a therapist who specialized in
applied behavior analysis. The program was ambitious, but the
business plan wasn't there, Sullivan said. To make matters worse,
they launched the program in 2009, when the global economy was
faltering. Though there was more demand for the services than Easter
Seals could provide, it was just too expensive. The organization has
to have revenue-neutral programs, Sullivan said. The program lost
$160,000 in 10 months. Easter Seals discontinued it after its first
Now Porter watches every program dollar and provides the board
with monthly financial reports. She is frugal and uses her social
networks to persuade people to donate services, whether it's office
furniture or painting the interior of the building. She convinced
someone to redesign the organization's website as a donation and
learned how to manage the site. She keeps a copy of WordPress for
Dummies in the office, and relies on friends and tutorial videos on
YouTube when she has to fix something on the website.
"One of our continued frustrations is letting people know about
Easter Seals," Sullivan said.
Locally, the not-for-profit organization has struggled with
getting its message out to the community, Sullivan said. Its mission
has changed in the decades since it was focused on curing polio.
Each chapter nationwide has a different objective, so it's not a
consistent, identifiable brand that works to cure cancer, heart
disease or diabetes, Sullivan said.
The Oklahoma City chapter provides direct services for children
with disabilities, and promotes intergenerational interaction.
Elderly people in an adult day care center interact with children in
the pre-kindergarten program. Sullivan said they are like the
airport control tower to match services with families. And though
Porter's focus for the last decade has been in the nonprofit world,
it didn't start out that way.
When Porter began her professional career, she intended to go to
law school. Sally Ray, then development director for the Oklahoma
City University School of Law, hired her in 1999 as a fundraising
assistant. At the time, Porter couldn't type and didn't know how to
send an email. Although Porter didn't have a lot of experience and
hadn't worked in a while, said Ray, who is currently regional chief
development officer at American Red Cross of Central & Western
Oklahoma, she was funny and had a positive attitude. …