Interview by Mary Martin. Photos courtesy of Communities Foundation of Texas.
Susan Swan Smith has an inside view of philanthropic giving in the DFW Metroplex as Chief Giving Officer for North Texas Giving Day. Her role at Communities Foundation of Texas is centered on connection—with nonprofits, foundation leaders, and the generous donors who make it all possible—so when it came time to shift gears and create a new kind of giving opportunity, the North Texas Giving Day team was ready to collaborate. We asked Susan to share her perspective on the new North Texas Giving Tuesday Now, what it means for local causes, and what local take-out is her current favorite.
Working at Communities Foundation of Texas, you’ve had a front-row seat to the collaboration taking place among foundations, philanthropists, and nonprofits this spring. What did those first few conversations sound like as the North Texas giving community shifted focus to COVID-19 response?
Our Philanthropy team realized early on that we were fortunate to have strong existing relationships with funders across the community. Having worked with each other already, we and they knew each other’s organizations and areas of focus. We quickly came together to talk about our interest in helping and capacity to do so. Through these conversations we realized there was a great deal of commonality—we all wanted to be the most help possible, we all recognized that the needs of the community were evolving and we knew we needed to respond rapidly. We agreed that we wanted to reduce the burden on the affected nonprofits and so the idea of a common application was born. That became the NorthTexasCares.org site and in less than two weeks, two rounds of grants have been awarded.
You are the Chief Officer for North Texas Giving Day, but that is a fall event and there is a glaring need right now. Why does another kind of giving day do to empower local cause-based organizations who are doing emergency response?
With this special Giving Day, we intend to give nonprofits the opportunity to raise much needed operating funds NOW while the need is so great. The current health and economic situation they are facing is creating an unprecedented ripple effect across our community. We are hopeful that letting North Texas Giving Day’s 250,000 donors know how great the need is and giving them an opportunity to give through a familiar and trusted platform will stir lots of giving. Pairing the Giving Day platform, donors and nonprofits with the Giving Tuesday brand and the Cowboys’ visibility should make the day even more powerful.
How are you encouraging your team and all of the helpers around you when there are so many problems to be solved?
Teddy Roosevelt said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” We can’t solve all the problems; we can only help mitigate them. With a quiver of solutions (North Texas Giving Tuesday Now, NorthTexasCares.org and others), we believe we can each do our piece to make a difference.
Can you share your thoughts on the turn toward virtual events for advocacy and fundraising? How are you seeing nonprofits flex their creativity?
The COVID-19 situation may be radically reshaping fundraising for the future. I’ve been so impressed with how quickly and creatively nonprofits pivoted their efforts in this crisis from in-person events to online events and campaigns. Some have created virtual events where you connect by Zoom or other technology, others have created “non-events” where the gathering is through giving, and still others have created completely on-line campaigns through Facebook, Instagram and email. I’m eager to see how effective these new measures are.
If a nonprofit, big or small, wants to participate in the North Texas Giving Tuesday Now on May 5th, where should they start?
If nonprofits participated in North Texas Giving Day 2019, they do not have to do anything. Registration is automatic and fees have been waived. They can however, go to the North Texas Giving Day site and update their profile if they wish and indicate any programming that is in need of specific funding due to COVID-19. We know nonprofits across the cause spectrum are helping our community from hosting virtual art lessons and readings for kids, to supplying much needed food and medical supplies.
If they did not participate last September, we recommend completing our interest survey to be informed about North Texas Giving Day 2020 (September 17): North Texas Giving Day 2020 interest form and considering applying for funds from the North Texas Cares funding collaboration.
Due to the quick turnaround on this effort, we are unable to register new nonprofits.
How can the community support their favorite cause right now? What is most helpful?
Right now they can go to NorthTexasGivingTuesdayNow.org and give to Communities Foundation of Texas’ Community Response Fund, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’ Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund, The Dallas Foundation’s COVID-19 Relief Fund, or the North Texas Community Foundation’s Better Together Fund.
Starting April 14, supporters and donors can go to NorthTexasGivingTuesdayNow.org and support any of the 3,000 listed nonprofits.
There is also a list of Virtual Volunteer opportunities.
And of course, we need to know what your favorite local take-out spot is!
My favorite is a wonderful Mexican restaurant in our neighborhood, El Norte Grill on Parker Road in Plano. Open noon to 8:00 p.m. every day. To get out of the house, I also go to Sonic most days.