Reprinted from Team Fuqua Magazine, 09.19.10 http://www.fuqua.duke.edu/news_events/feature_stories/nonprofit/

Suzanne Smith (Daytime MBA ’08) is recognized nationally for her efforts within the nonprofit sector.

By Tim Candon — This article was originally published in the alumni magazine Team Fuqua.

September 09, 2010

Suzanne Smith
Suzanne Smith (formerly Steffens) recalls an assignment where she was asked to compare and contrast two items of her choice. She chose to write about the similarities and differences between democrats and republicans—she was in the fifth grade. Even then, Smith (Daytime MBA ’08) displayed an appreciation for differing points of view as well as an interest in topics that her peers were less aware of.

Some 20 years later, she carved out a successful business by fulfilling a need few knew existed. In 2008, she founded Social Impact Architects™ to help social sector organizations better achieve their missions by leveraging business strategies and techniques.

“Because of its profit motivation, the business sector comes up with great ideas and innovations. If properly translated, those ideas can be incredibly helpful to nonprofits. But there’s no cross-pollination,” Smith said.

She recently applied business techniques to a marketing campaign for her client, Shared Housing Center, which provides and facilitates affordable housing in Dallas, TX. Smith refreshed their communications by likening the agency’s services to a GPS system.

“One thing you learn in marketing is to connect an abstract idea to something that’s more commonplace, like a GPS, so the idea becomes more concrete and simple to understand,” Smith explained. The campaign helped the agency to hone in on their value proposition and translate it to all stakeholders including clients and investors.

Smith has the unique skill set to adapt and apply other business strategies to the nonprofit sector. Before starting Social Impact Architects, which is now based in Dallas, she worked for the nonprofit American Heart Association for five years, and then as a Senior Consultant for Community Wealth Ventures, a management consulting firm for nonprofits and philanthropic foundations in Washington, D.C.

“I bridge nonprofit, government, and for-profit disciplines,” Smith said. “I’m always looking for solutions to maximize the value for all three.”

Earlier this year, Smith’s value to the social sector was recognized by her peers. In April, she received the Next Generation Social Entrepreneurs Award at the Social Enterprise Alliance Summit in San Francisco, CA. The national award recognizes an outstanding social entrepreneur under age 35 whose contributions have wide impact.

“I still pinch myself,” Smith said. “To be recognized is saying that what I’m doing is meaningful, and it will probably be one of the highlights of my career. It’s a vote of confidence that I’m moving in the right direction, and my ideas have merit. There’s nothing more I want to do career-wise than bring social entrepreneurship to more nonprofits.”

At the foundation of Smith’s success is her education at Fuqua, where she was heavily involved with the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE) and was a CASE Scholar. She was also a COLE Leadership Fellow. She says she isn’t sure she would have found her way into social entrepreneurship if it wasn’t for Fuqua. She applied to the school after reading Enterprising Nonprofits by Fuqua Professor Gregory Dees, Jed Emerson, and Peter Economy.

“I read the book and thought, ‘This is exactly what I’m articulating.’ I felt like I had a voice,” Smith said. “Up until that point, I’d never considered an MBA. When I read this book, I really started to consider it. The more I read, the more I thought, ‘This is what I need to do’…I felt I wasn’t going to be at my best if I didn’t get extra education.”

Now that Smith is at her best, she’s seeing to it that nonprofits will be, too.

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