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Susan Swan Smith

Meet Susan Swan Smith, chief relationship officer at Communities Foundation of Texas, a mega partner for charitable giving in North Texas. CFT manages more than 900 charitable funds for families, companies, foundations and nonprofits and has distributed more than $1.4 billion in grants since its founding more than 60 years ago. 

Swan Smith took over the helm of CFT nearly four years ago after a long and distinguished career in education. She served as Assistant Head for Development and External Affairs at The Hockaday School in preparation for the ongoing $100 million Centennial celebration and campaign. For nearly 15 years, Swan Smith, was in charge of the development department at Southern Methodist University. Her dedication to community and ability to connect with others may be rooted in family. She comes from a long line of educators.

We wanted to know more about Swan Smith and CFT and she was kind enough to answer a few questions: 

Dawn Tongish: Please begin by telling us about Communities Foundation of Texas. 

Susan Swan Smith: Communities Foundation of Texas (CFT, as we say) is your partner for charitable giving. We professionally manage more than 900 charitable funds for families, companies, foundations and nonprofits and have awarded more than $1.4 billion in grants since our founding in 1953. Presenting North Texas Giving Day is one of the many ways Communities Foundation of Texas serves as a hub for philanthropy in North Texas and beyond. More on what we do can be found at www.cftexas.org www.facebook.com/CFTexas or www.twitter.com/GiveWisely. For North Texas Giving Day information, visit our sister site, www.NorthTexasGivingDay.org, or at www.facebook.com/NorthTexasGivingDay, or #NTXGivingDay on Twitter.    

DT: What are your duties at Communities Foundation of Texas?   

SSS: As Chief Relationship Officer, I manage new donor relationships, connect donor passions with community needs, and find innovative ways to encourage donations to support CFT programs throughout North Texas. I lead a team that raises more than $80 million annually and stewards more than 900 charitable funds. We serve the needs of CFT’s donors by handling complex gifts, managing charitable funds wisely, and leveraging CFT’s 61 years of community knowledge to increase charitable impact. I oversee different programs, including:

North Texas Giving Day, the annual, one-day, online fundraising event for North Texas nonprofits. In 2013, this event raised $25.2 million for 1,351 local nonprofits, and set a new national record for giving days in the U.S.  This year more than 1,600 nonprofits are registered to participate on September 18th at NorthTexasGivingDay.org.

Entrepreneurs for North Texas (EFNT), a Communities Foundation of Texas program that facilitates philanthropy for small and mid-size businesses. We like to say, “EFNT makes it easy to do good.”  EFNT’s 100-plus member companies include Best Maid Products, DriversSelect, Montgomery Cosia Greilech, Hunt Consolidated, Inc. and Sleep Experts. EFNT recently inducted Trevor Rees-Jones into its Ring of Entrepreneurs.

CFT’s individual and family funds, such as donor-advised funds, scholarships and other special funds. This is where we work with people to define and achieve their charitable dreams and research effective nonprofits that meet their philanthropic goals.

CFT’s corporate funds from local companies including Neiman Marcus and TravisWolff for which CFT advises on everything from corporate philanthropy to disaster relief to employee giving.CFT’s efforts to educate the community on all aspects of charitable planning.  My team leads an annual estate-planning seminar for hundreds of wealth advisors, estate attorneys and CPAs across Dallas-Fort Worth.

DT: How did you become involved with CFT, and why are you so passionate about the work being done at the organization?   

SSS: Making Tomorrow Better is our vision. It’s incredibly inspiring to work with ambitiously compassionate people who’ve had success in their lives and now are giving back. It’s a great honor to help steward their legacy. I joined CFT almost four years ago following 20 years in education. After a career of helping one nonprofit at a time, it’s been a pleasure to help hundreds or thousands every year. 

DT: Why do you work in the nonprofit sector? 

SSS: I come from a family of teachers.  Giving back through your work is what I was raised to do. Prior to joining CFT, I served six years as Assistant Head for Development and External Affairs at The Hockaday School, helping prepare for the school’s current $100 million campaign and recent Centennial celebration.  For nearly 15 years, I oversaw the operations of Southern Methodist University’s development department.  My earlier career included stints at the Dallas Theater Center and Theatre Three.

DT: The elderly is often an overlooked and forgotten sector who desperately needs support. What can someone do to provide assistance? 

SSS: For starters, you can donate to one or more of the 99 agencies that providing support to seniors that are participating in North Texas Giving Day. Check out the list online by looking at the bottom right of the page where you can search by category and select “seniors.” (http://www.northtexasgivingday.org/#npo-category/seniors ) For example, the Senior Source is working on an Elder Financial Safety Center, which is something that our foundation is supporting through the Caruth Foundation that is housed at CFT. You can volunteer with them, too, in many ways.

DT: How can the people of DFW and beyond help meet your needs for 2014? What are your biggest needs? 

SSS: Related to North Texas Giving Day, one of our greatest needs is sponsorship for the bonus and prize funds that fuel the day. If you are interested in funding something that makes an incredible impact on thousands of local nonprofits, then we’d love to talk to you! Call me! 214-750-4256 giving@cftexas.org.  And, even if you can’t participate on the funder level, we would still love your participation. All donations on Giving Day that are $25 or more are amplified by the $2 million in bonus and prize funds.

DT: What is the most memorable moment in your experiences at Communities Foundation of Texas?  

SSS: Setting a national record for North Texas Giving Day last year is one of my favorite memories. Not only do we have an incredible internal team, but we are honored to host an event that has pumped $60 million into the North Texas community since 2009.  In 2013, 1,350 nonprofits received grants totaling $25.2 million. They ranged almost from A to Z (Aberg Learning Center to YW of Dallas).  The aggregate number of gifts nearly doubled from the year before to 75,000 – and came from all 50 states and 35 countries. Twenty-six percent of the donors reported that they were making their first gift to their chosen nonprofit.  Fifty percent of donors made gifts to more than one nonprofit (up from 21% the previous year). It’s truly humbling to lead something that has touched so many lives. We can’t wait to see how the event does this year on September 18! 

If you'd like to nominate a local resident for a BubbleLife community profile, contact Dawn Tongish at dtongish@yahoo.com or find her on Twitter at @DawnTongish.

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