What Collaboration Means to Success with Suzanne Smith


Today’s guest is Suzanne Smith, founder and CEO of Social Impact Architects and a celebrated speaker and blogger in the social change space. Suzanne works closely with non-profits and businesses with a mind for being responsible in their respective sectors.

In this episode, Suzanne speaks to the shifting climate for social change within her generation and the up-and-comers and how we can make lasting impacts to improve social issues that affect our communities.

Show Episode Transcript

Manufacturing Leadership

Suzanne Smith – What Collaboration Means to Success

Welcome to Manufacturing Leadership, a podcast for young professionals in and out of the oil and gas industry. And now here's your host Energy Weldfab's, Michael Clements.

Micahel C.: Hello listeners. Welcome to another episode of Manufacturing Leadership. I'm your host Michael Clements, and boy do we have a great show planned for you today. Our guest has a deep belief that everyone is a change maker. As a serial social entrepreneur, she strives to harness the powerful force of organizations, including non-profits, foundations, and socially responsible businesses and individuals to maximize the potential of the social sector to create real scalable impact. She is the founder and CEO of Social Impact Architects, a public speaker, and top rated blogger. As a third generation Texan, her roots run deep through her work to improve her community. Please welcome our guest, Suzanne Smith.

Suzanne Smith: Hi, how are you guys today?

Micahel C.: Doing wonderful. How are you today, Suzanne?

Suzanne Smith: Good, good. Well, I think probably the most important thing you didn't include is that I grew up in East Texas, so even though I live in big D, my heart is in East Texas.

Micahel C.: All right, so you said you grew up in East Texas.

Suzanne Smith: I did.

Micahel C.: Where at?

Suzanne Smith: So I actually grew in Fate, Texas, which is right outside of Rockwall. So a lot of folks here would say that's not East Texas, but we grew up on a 50 acre farm and then I spent summers with my grandmother out in Omaha, which is near Mount Pleasant.

Micahel C.: That sounds like East Texas to me.

Suzanne Smith: That's East Texas. As is East Texas it comes. And so what is going to be funny is by the end of this podcast I will be bringing back my accent. So anytime I talked to anybody who has an accent, including my dad who grew up in deep East Texas, I always get my accent back.

Micahel C.: Well it is part of the package-

Suzanne Smith: It is.

Micahel C.: ... you're getting from here. You're going to get that accent. So-

Suzanne Smith: I know.

Micahel C.: ... I hope does occur. I try to like downplay it here on the show a little bit but I know that it definitely has to come out sometimes.

Suzanne Smith: I think it makes us a little special. Plus it just has a hospitality in it in some ways. So I love it. I love coming out to East Texas, go to Canton pretty regularly. There's just an ethos here in East Texas that I really appreciate. People are helpful to each other. They're about community. They also are just always interested in other people. And so I just love that

Micahel C.: We really have a lot of caring folks where we live. There's a lot of wonderful stories about people doing good for others around here and really likes it. It's a really social responsible areas as far as people looking out for their neighbor and a really wonderful place to live too. So you said you're currently in the DFW area now though.

Suzanne Smith: I am. Well that's where a lot of the businesses, as far as consulting with non-profits, which is part of our business. I do travel across the country, but it's just easy to be so close to Dallas Love Field Airport and DFW Airport. But I do a lot of work in Fort Worth. I'm actually heading to a speech after this in Tyler and do a good amount of work in Waco and other places just around Texas. So it's really fun for me to kind of see how Texas has evolved over the last 20 years. And how much we're really becoming a global economic powerhouse. I mean if you think about attracting organizations like Toyota and some of the different things that are happening, it's been really an interesting thing to watch.

When I was growing up, even at Rockwall, we were excited when the McDonald's and the Walmart came in. Now they've got like a Costco and a Bed Bath & Beyond and just all sorts of things. So the change is definitely happening. And so while I live in Dallas, I try to get out of Dallas as often as I can just to enjoy wide open spaces.

Micahel C.: Well, and you mentioned Texas and our economy and those things. So we do have the 10th largest economy in the world. So if you were putting us up against other countries, not only other states, this is a wonderful place to be an entrepreneur and hopefully you're being able to realize the benefits of that. Tell us a little bit about how you got into your line of work and what you do?

Suzanne Smith: So just a comment on where Texas is economically. I mean, I think one of the things that our founding fathers did is they really look to the diversity of our different industries that we brought in. So in addition to oil and gas, there's also a lot in healthcare and aerospace is becoming bigger in the Dallas Fort Worth area. And so to me, no matter what's happening economically, that provides us a buffer. And so that's one of the reasons why I think Texas has fared well even through the recession, unlike some other states. So I always think that, that's really smart and that was very intentional too. If you talk to Ross Perot Jr. and some of the different folks who are really thinking about the future of Texas, they really were intentional about who they were attracting and making sure we had diversity. So no matter what was happening economically, we would still be able to survive.

So entrepreneurship, interestingly enough, has just been a recent occurrence in the sense that we've always had small businesses, we've always had family owned businesses, but now we actually have this strain of real concentration around entrepreneurship. So again, we've always been doing it. We now have just been emphasizing it. And so there's more and more universities who are teaching it. In fact, I teach at University of Texas at Arlington, a social entrepreneurship class. And I think there's just an interest in, particularly among millennials and even my generation, Gen X's in wanting to do their own thing. And wanting to step outside the traditional corporate complex and thinking about how they can change their own community, they can disrupt business models. And obviously that's been spurred on by legendary Texans like Michael Dell, who just had an idea and then in their garage tried to develop it.

So we've got some really great examples of that in Texas because of our maverick style anyway of from small to large businesses that have really helped us. We got South by Southwest now, which has an entrepreneurship thread. So it's not just about music anymore, it's about forward thinking individuals. So I think we've got a whole lot of innovative thinking that has always been a part of Texas, but I think has been emphasized in the last 10 years. So thinking about that, essentially I was in that same spot. I'd worked for two really big non-profits and learned a lot. So American Heart Association and Phoenix House. But for me, I really recognize that the social sector needed some changes, that we really weren't solving social issues at the scale at which we needed to. So if you think about the issues that are important to you or close to your heart, it could be the environment, education, it could be around poverty and helping others, you name it.

We really haven't gotten much progress in those areas. We still have the homeless, we still have kids who are undereducated. We still have kids who have absolute potential of going to college that don't go to college or don't think it's possible for them to go to college. The environment, there's still issues that we are trying to deal with to really make sure that we're not creating an environmental impact on the state. And so I was really perplexed with how do we actually achieve social change at scale? How do we actually change norms? But how do we get things done? And so I was given a book by J. Gregory Dees by a mentor of mine about 15 years ago. And I finally found my niche and it was called social entrepreneurship, which essentially said that charity had gone as far as it possibly could. That's the whole idea of giving a man a fish.

When you give a man a fish, you have to keep giving them a fish, right? But if you teach a man to fish, you actually enable that individual to be prosperous and have wealth creation on their own. And then I think part of the other thing that Bill Drayton, one of the founding fathers of social entrepreneurship would say is you also want to create the fishing industry. So even thinking beyond the teaching a person to fish, like how do you create an industry that goes to scale? So I really came across social entrepreneurship 15 years ago, decided I was going to go back to school, even though it was very hard for me to leave Texas. I went to North Carolina, which is very similar to Texas in many ways and as such a beautiful state and went to Duke to kind of learn the principles of social entrepreneurship from Greg Dees, who also by the way is from Appalachia. So he actually has rural routes as well.

So he and I talked a lot about how we could bring social entrepreneurship to everybody, not just urban areas and got an opportunity to really get my MBA there and with a concentration in social entrepreneurship and strategy. So essentially part of my goal was to bring it back to Texas. And when I first came back nine years ago, people were like, "What? Social entrepreneurship? You're doing social media? No, no, no." And so it's been fun for me over the last nine years to bring a concept to a state I love so much. And when I first started, no one was teaching classes in social entrepreneurship, there was a couple of social entrepreneurs across the state of Texas and myself included. And now we have a ton of people who are doing social entrepreneurship, South by Southwest has a whole couple of days on socially entrepreneurial concepts like impact investing.

And now almost every college that I know of has some class in social entrepreneurship. So it's been fun for me to see that evolution and be part of that evolution. Certainly I could have lived in DC and Boston and San Francisco and it would've been easier, but it was in Texas and I really loved the idea of kind of infusing my enthusiasm of social entrepreneurship to Texans. So I started my company nine years ago to really help with that. So whether it's a business who wants to give back to the social space beyond just giving money and donations and maybe a little bit of volunteerism. Or it's the non-profit who wants to be more entrepreneurial and think differently about how they change their business model and also how they do work so that it goes to scale. Or it's entrepreneurs like myself who are really trying to think about how would they start a business and if they were to do it, how do they bake social responsibility into their ethos?

And it's not just how you would connect with your community, but I noticed in your bathroom there was this really great value statement around how you treat employees, what you do with your community, how to build you up as employees, what you're going to do as far as responsibility to the environment. We want all companies to do that. If they do, if they play their part, then we have huge scalable change there. So anyway, that's really the thrust of my enthusiasm for the space. And then just the fact that I am so excited that Texas is on the trajectory that it is.

Micahel C.: I really appreciate the energy that you bring when you're describing your work and the feeling that I'm getting is you were a pioneer for the state of Texas when it came to social entrepreneurship.

Suzanne Smith: It's the first time someone has said that to me, but I think in the same way that we had pioneers on a whole lot of levels, starting the state of Texas also being its own country, just all of those things. I think we have people who instigate, I think I'm probably an instigator, someone that had to prove the concept and there's still work to be done, but I think if I ended up landing in that category, I will be very honored to be kind of an instigator or pioneer in this area.

Micahel C.: Well, and since you've been doing social entrepreneurship, how much of a correlation do you see between being an entrepreneur and being a leader?

Suzanne Smith: That's a great question. First, let me attack the social entrepreneurship to entrepreneur, because I think people still unfortunately put us in the category of, "Oh, you're the do-gooders." And I think most people who are in the non-profit space or in the charitable space are really the do-gooders. I would say social entrepreneurs don't want to just do good, they want to get results from the good that they do. So I would say I would put us in the category more of getting results from the good. And that's the differentiation I tell my clients of, you could be doing all the good that you want, but I want to actually get results from it. So that's what also moves us in the direction of closer to businesses. Because at the end of the day, businesses have one thing that they're trying to accomplish, profit. So our version of a bottom line in the social space, so businesses have profit as their motivator, ours is results. What impact are you getting in people's lives?

So an illustration, I would give of that of a client that I had in Tarrant County, just to kind of give you the difference. So I was actually working with them about four years ago. And so they had a really great soup kitchen and they served wonderfully rich, completely homemade soup. And so they had all of these individuals who were down on their luck or potentially homeless coming in. And they got this opportunity from a local funder to actually hire a case manager. So I was working with them and I got to take a tour. Their soup by the way is like the best soup I've really ever had. It's really great. So anytime I was in town, I would also go there for lunch. And so I walked in and we were talking and I said, "What results are you getting?" And they were like, "We've got 100 referrals every month. We're giving out referrals to substance abuse treatment, to counseling, to shelters," all sorts of things.

And this is the difference in how a social entrepreneur thinks versus a charitable organization. I asked, "To what end are those people actually showing up to those referrals?" And they looked at me kind of quizzically because they were like, "But we did 100 referrals." And I'm like, "That's great, but push your thinking a little bit farther. So how many people showed up?" And I said, "Just for the sake of just experimentation, the next month I want you to follow up with that referral and see if that person actually showed up." Because at the end of the day, that's results, right? So the next month I came back. And what percentage do you think showed up?

Micahel C.: 50.

Suzanne Smith: You're what they were thinking. It actually was 10%.

Micahel C.: Wow.

Suzanne Smith: Because if you think about it, if you're given a business card, even in a networking session, how often do people actually follow up? It's just human nature that unless we have an appointment or unless we're really motivated, time often gets in our way. Plus you're dealing with a person who when you're down on your luck, you are demotivated in significant ways. And so there's real barriers to actually doing the thing that you think we as people who are not demotivated would just think is intuitive. And there's hesitation, there's just all sorts of things. So there was only 10% and so if you think about it, that's just 10 people out of 100. And so what was good is that the person who's the case manager was buoyed by this. They were like, "Well, we can do better." And they'd actually done research already and found a couple of other locations that weren't soup kitchens, but had very recently realized what they needed to do with this particularly difficult population.

So they did two things and these are things that work for all individuals. And so one of my backgrounds is in behavioral economics. Like how do you get people to do the thing that's in their best interests? One, they set up an appointment. Because just think about it, if you set up an appointment, don't you often show up. That's just human motivation. The other thing is that they actually would introduce the person who got the referral to someone else who went to that agency who was also in the soup kitchen and said, "You should talk to this other person because they got good results from this counselor or they live at that shelter." So they could actually hear how great this place was. Well, it's just typical word of mouth. Like if you hear about a restaurant in town that is new and somebody else is telling you how great it is, aren't you more likely to go?

Micahel C.: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Suzanne Smith: So I'm like, "Great, go for it." And so I came back, I think two months later and they were super excited because they got it to 50%. And what was interesting about it is that was not where they wanted to stop. They wanted to get it up to 90% and they are now at 90% of people following up. And so that's a good example of how social entrepreneurs think about the world differently. And then that thread you were talking about leadership, that case manager showed leadership, she saw a problem and instead of kind of being problem-oriented, she was solution-oriented. And I think that's how social entrepreneurs think a little bit differently in that you just undeterred by challenges you just keep as an entrepreneur, keep trying new things until you get results.

Micahel C.: How important do you think it is to have good KPIs, key performance indicators for a non-profit? And being a part of a non-profit myself, I've seen some that have KPIs and some that don't and it sounded like internally they had one that they were going after in the 50% but they actually weren't measuring it to see if they were hitting that. How important do you think it is to non-profits to in being in the social entrepreneur area, how important are KPIs to the success of a non-profit organization?

Suzanne Smith: I personally think they're essential for any organization. I think they're personally essential for us as individuals. So even at my new year's resolution time, I'm setting KPIs for myself, because unless you measure it, it's easy to get distracted with time issues, other motivations. So for me, KPIs are an essential part. When I do a strategic plan for a non-profit, we always are trying to set a result-oriented KPI. So the soup kitchen set a ... what are we call an output, which is that they got 100 referrals every month. But what I was wanting them to do is do an outcome, which is what percentage of those people showed up? Because at the end of the day, that's what we're really looking for. And there's some quantitative stuff that you can come through that I'm a big believer that unless you set the target, there's no way you're going to actually hit it unless it's by just pure luck.

And pure luck just doesn't happen very often in the non-profit space. And so I like measuring everything as much as possible. Now I will say, I think sometimes one of the things that non-profits get into is they measure too much. And then as I say, it's not about big data, it's about big insights. So they collect all of it and they're good at collecting it, but then they never take that next step of analyzing it and seeing where they need to improve. And so that's where I think the soup kitchen did a really good job of continuous improvement along the way and setting benchmarks for themselves and getting undeterred when they saw something different. And so to finish the story about the soup kitchen, and this is the best part on the qualitative level. So when I walked in, I went back probably about six months ago. It was a completely different place. And now interestingly enough, they no longer think of themselves as a soup kitchen.

They see the soup as a means to an end, that the soup is provided. Yes and it's great, but what they really now believe that with their whole mission is has shifted from giving away soup to now using soup as a leverage point to build trust with these individuals. So that then they can help them on their journey into a better place. And when I walked in, but I don't know if you've been to a soup kitchen before, but it's very normal for the individuals who are just so downtrodden and are living in the elements and they've seen the worst of life to actually not have eye contact. And they'll actually look down as they're going through. They won't talk to other people on the benches. They won't interact. Well you would've thought I would've walked into a club or something because they were all talking to each other. They were interacting, there was eye contact. It was a totally different place. And that's where I think you can measure being quantitatively, but the qualitative, when I went up to the person who's the case manager and I'm like, "This is amazing."

Just because you started a real true two way relationship between you and them, they are now completely transformed and now they've transformed as an agency. They are no longer providing soup as the end. They're providing referrals and trust and companionship to people who've not felt that in a really long time. And so that's the other kind of neat part about the story, is I think all non-profits could get to that place, where they can actually really think hard about what they're trying to accomplish and they may be can even push farther than what they even thought was possible.

Micahel C.: How often do you come across social organizations that you feel maybe has an outdated vision or mission for their organization?

Suzanne Smith: Interestingly enough, in this day and time, I would say almost nine out of 10. I think in part because vision and missions in the past used to be really long and now we live in a Twitter world and it needs to be short and sweet. And so I think that's probably one of the things I consistently work with them on. The other thing too is that I find they oftentimes conflate vision and mission and the reality of a vision statement is you're setting your target and that target is where you want the world to be. And it could be you and it could be others that want to get there. So ending homelessness as an example or something like that. And then your mission is how you're going to directly impact that thing and then hopefully other people are also trying to do that as well. And then the other area that you didn't mention, which is almost as important, is that most non-profits don't have value statement.

So again, you guys had those in the bathroom. So I was like applauding you. I was like, "Great." Most organizations don't have this. And value statements are almost more important in this day and time because you need obviously the vision of where you're going, which is the thing you're aiming towards. You need to know the thing at which you're aiming for and kind of your unique value proposition. But you also need to, particularly in non-profits where all they have is their people power to achieve that mission. Values are critically important because you want to attract the people who are going to help you, but you also want to grow the people that are in your organization. And doing good is not enough for a lot of employees anymore. They've got to feel like when they walk in the door that they're valued and they're appreciated and that there's professional development. And so I actually use those as a trio, which is how do you go from a vision to a mission to your values? And I would say again, nine out of 10 as non-profits are not there.

Micahel C.: Well, and for a non-profit to establish that mission, the vision and the values for the organization, is that something that one leader has to do? Or is that something that they can do as a collaborative team? Where does that come from for a non-profit?

Suzanne Smith: That's a great question because I think that's one of the areas that Social Impact Architects is kind of differentiated ourselves. So we are not a classic consulting firm in that we're wanting to use every opportunity to meet with a client so that we can make money. And that's where a benefit corporation and that we break even every year because we want to give back to the community as much as we get and so all of the things we develop, the tools and techniques, the stuff I'm going to be presenting in Tyler are completely open source. And I think that's important because in the charitable space that's how we go to scale, is providing techniques that anybody can do. So we have a full DIY model online, so everything we do with clients is online and it's actually free and available for anybody else to do. And we have a weekly blog called Social TrendSpotter, where we document those things and certainly if they want to call me and I can coach them through the process, that's the value add that I bring is just multiple experiences and outside facilitator, some objective thinking.

But when it comes to vision and mission, the first thing I do is I do a question of how satisfied are you with this vision and mission? And typically I like to see those satisfaction rates right around 95%. If they're lower than 95% typically we look at the feedback and most of the time people are saying this wording is off or this is now changed, or for example, a lot of mission statements include the word poverty. And we've realized now that, that is not a good word for the clients, that's not an uplifting, empowering word for clients. They don't see themselves in poverty. So I think we need to change that kind of mentality of how we approach our mission so that it's accessible to the clients we're serving. So anyway, we spend time on the satisfaction and then we spend time tweaking them based on that. And what I typically do is, and this is an entrepreneurial principle which you'd appreciate, is just crowdsource, look at other mission and vision statements from organizations who are either competitors or comparable.

So competitors in the area, so that you don't come up with something similar but also comparable. So someone in St. Louis or someone that's in Appalachia. And we find other vision and mission statements and then we do what I call "a mashup." I like this, I don't like this, I like this word, I don't like this word. And then it just comes together. When it comes to values, we do that very differently because oftentimes we're starting from scratch and we do what I call "a tweak on a vision board." So if you're familiar with a vision board, basically people will basically look at magazines, articles, they'll look at quotes and this stuff is attractive to you. You may not know why it's attractive to you, you collect them, and then you put it on a piece of paper or put it on a vision board. And then that's your kind of your mantra or that's kind of the things that are important to you. And then you can kind of connect the dots between those and say, "Why is it this picture and this quote? Oh, because I am a survivor," for example.

And then it helps you kind of think about where you want to move forward. So we do that with values and so what I've done with clients is essentially have their employees do that exact same thing and then they submit in like, "Here's a quote I like, here's a picture I like, here's a company that I like." And then you get a sense of how to crowdsource it and you see themes like collaboration or innovation or family-oriented, those kind of things. And then through that crowdsourcing process, you can then build a vision board or build what I call a value board and essentially it becomes crystal clear what matters to the people that are already working for you. And then over time we can then just work with them on the right wording and then that right wording to explain the values is just a short and sweet type of stuff. And then I typically like a visual too, because now we have people who are not really as verbal as they are visual.

So I typically try to come up with a visual that encapsulates those values. And so that's kind of how I would recommend from a DIY model for non-profits to do it. And anybody who's listening, if they would like that it's available on my website, but you can also contact me and I can help you with that.

Micahel C.: Well, and to, I just want to ask, for an organization, for the individuals, one thing that I've learned since I've been in college is a mission, vision, values, it was taught in school. We were taught the importance of it, but one thing that I think I've been able to learn here, and I see it being emphasized much more at leadership conferences and other places, is that, that is your instruction manual. That is your tool for your organization and so when you're talking about non-profits, a lot of times a lot of non-profits are going to have volunteers and those volunteers may be spread out. They may be in different committees, different parts of that organization, and some of them may never come in contact with maybe the president or chairman of that organization. And so to be sure everybody is on the same page and to be sure everybody is moving at the beat of the same drum, is that a tool that those organizations now use? Is it the same thing in non-profit? Is this profit that they're using that as the instruction manual for their organization and the members of it?

Suzanne Smith: And you brought a really good point where they're also just words. You got to put them into action and so I'm a big believer in practical experience and action based learning. And so the point you're making, which I think is really important is how do you bring them to life? So for example, I recommend to all the non-profit boards of having a mission moment, doing a five minute mission moment in every single board meeting. Somebody that's been impacted, something cool that happened, so that, that way they're consistently put into the mission. I have one board that I work with that at the very end of every meeting they say, "Are we following our mission? Did we stay on target?" When it comes to values, I also evaluate them. If they already have values, the staff get to rate, "How are we doing in this?" So oftentimes in a strategic plan they may be off on two of the five values and that's an opportunity for the organization going back to your KPI question, to measure their progress over time on those values and how much they're actually instituting those things.

So I think all those are important and you've got to bring those to life. I oftentimes too, with each of the values will have a value spaced month or a value space quarter where for example, if one of your values is commitment to community, then you actually go out and do a volunteer event that particular month. If the next quarter is about ... I know I'm using the ones on your wall in the bathroom, how you personally grow? That particular quarter you do a personality assessment and you get a sense of maybe your strengths through StrengthsFinder or something along those lines. So I personally believe that in addition to having them, because to your point, it's an instruction manual. You have to live them, when you have to make sure you're vigilant, that those are the things that you value. And I also would encourage folks when they're interviewing people, so then you have new people coming in that they actually are evaluating those people on those existing values.

Because otherwise you'll attract people who are not really family-oriented or they're not really innovative or they're not detail-oriented or whatever it is that is important to you and your ethos. It's different for everybody. Making sure you're bringing in people and helping them understand when we say detail-orientation, this is what it means. When we say collaboration, this is what it means. So those are some tips that I have as far as living your values, which to your point is much more important.

Micahel C.: You really liked the idea of a team though collaborating to get those values, to get that mission, to get that vision statement. So as a non-profit or even a profit, as you get those things, how does a leader then get that passed down through the organization? How do they ... all the things that we just talked about, you're selling it to the members of your organization, for a profit company we have to sell that to our customers, our vendors, everybody. In a non-profit, I guess, who are you really selling it to outside of, I guess the people that are within that organization? Are you selling it to the people that can benefit from the organization? Are you selling it to the people that are contributing maybe monetarily to that organization? And I guess, who are you trying to speak to in a non-profit whenever you're coming up with the mission, vision and values?

Suzanne Smith: I do a training on culture and one of the things that most interests people about that presentation is I said culture is not top down, it's actually side to side.

Micahel C.: Servant leadership.

Suzanne Smith: Yeah, it really is. And so if a CEO has those values and they try to push it down, it's not as effective as if, again, you use a team based approach and say, "What values do we want?" And let's do the vision board or the values board. And you can influence it for sure and you should, because obviously you started the company because you have certain values. So as an example, I only source from minority and women owned businesses because I want to give them a leg up. And so that's a value I have, but all my team knows that, that's really important to me. And they know why and they're all women too. So it's kind of an easy thing to kind of keep going. And so I think that this is the interesting thing about leadership is that you have to know when to be a leader and when to be a follower. And so I tell all of my students, I'm like most of your life, even though you may be predisposed to leadership, you probably should only lead in 20% of the situations.

Because in theory, the leader should be the person who's the most qualified, the person who has the most influence. And you're not going to be the most qualified and the most influential in every single category. Unfortunately, people think because they're a leader, they should be a leader in church, they should be a leader in the community, they should be a leader in their company. Like every situation they should be a leader. And I oftentimes say that doesn't even make sense because you need multiple people being leaders in a community. And if that one person keeps being the leader, they don't allow other people to grow into that role. And they also sometimes aren't the most qualified. They're just the one that talks the most or is the most passionate about a particular thing. It doesn't mean they're the right person to be the leader in that particular instance. So I think followership is almost more important and we don't talk about it a lot, but I talk about it a lot in my speeches, which is that know when you're the leader and know when you need to be a follower.

Because the only reason why a leader is a leader is because they have followers, but otherwise they're just a crazy person. And so for me, I think going back to your top down analogy, I think that's a good example where the CEO or the leader of that organization needs to decide, "What am I trying to teach my folks?" And I think most entrepreneurs would say, "I want them to feel empowered to do their job and have ownership over that job," whether they're a non-profit or a for profit. And if they want that, then they can't be the one that makes a lot of top down decisions.

Micahel C.: Whenever you started out in the social entrepreneurship in that field, who is your target as far as who you knew you wanted to be working with from a leadership standpoint? You knew yourself obviously, at that point you had already been in businesses and other things, so whenever you went down this road, what kind of people were you looking for to join forces with you?

Suzanne Smith: This is probably a cop out answer, but anybody willing, when you're an early adopter of a concept, you just take whoever is willing to join your tribe at the early level. I had goals set for myself and so the business model that I developed for consulting, I actually jokingly called it The Southwest Airlines Approach. Because if many of the listeners may remember when I was growing up, it was a special thing to go travel, because it was so expensive. And there's only a couple of airlines and the flights were super expensive and so you couldn't always do it. People also dressed up when they flew, which they don't anymore, and so then Southwest Airlines, it broke in and they completely changed the model. They wanted people for just casual reasons, instead of driving to Austin or driving out here, they wanted people to fly. And so they had to bring the price point down.

And so for me, I wanted everybody to have access to quality consulting, quality advice and some really practical tips. So because it's one thing for me to say have a vision statement or have a value statement, but I've only taken you half way. I've got to empower you with tools to help you think through how you'll get there, which is the DIY model or the, Do It Yourself model that we've created. And so I started out with just anybody who would listen and the early adopters, the early believers, these are people who from my past network saw the work I had done at the American Heart Association and Phoenix House and just wanted to kind of utilize my brain. But now I have found new people, I've done a lot of guest lecturing. And then I moved into actually teaching. So it was kind of an evolution and I recognized early on, and I think this is one of the things that people struggle with as entrepreneurs is they assume if they build it, people will come.

Remember the movie, Field of Dreams. Funny enough, when I talk about Field of Dreams in my class, no one knows that movie. So it just goes to show how old I am, but interestingly enough in the business space, what you build it, people don't always come and you've got to be ready for the level of marketing, the level of connection that you need to have. And my business models completely changed from when I first started, because I adjusted and pivoted, I call it "the pivot," as customer preferences changed, as customers gave me feedback and I understood kind of what they were looking for. And that's really the trick. And entrepreneurship is making sure whether you're a large company or a small company is making those shifts. I mean, look at Blockbuster. Blockbuster no longer exists, because they refuse to believe that we would eventually get movies in the mail. And now that this whole thing of the internet actually exists. Interestingly enough, what people don't know oftentimes is that Netflix initially went into Blockbuster and actually sought to be part of Blockbuster and they said, "No."

So they not only didn't calculate the trends in the right way, but then they had an opportunity and they refuse to believe it, when the only place Blockbuster still exist is in Alaska. So it's a good example of even big companies make these mistakes and not pivoting and changing as the environment shifts.

Micahel C.: How important is it to non-profits, and I mean we could talk about it on any organization, but we'll stick to the non-profit, how important has this digital revolution been to the non-profit industry? And how much is it changing the landscape of how these non-profits go about getting funds into their organizations as well as recruitment as well as getting their voice heard? I felt like if the non-profit, just like a regular business, if you haven't adapted to this new way of thinking and the new digital world then you're going to get left behind, is that a true statement for the non-profit just like it is in the private sector?

Suzanne Smith: Yeah. You've hit the nail on the head. Certainly for profits have had to evolve because this is where the advantages of their profit motivation. They start seeing their profit decline, so they have to shift. Non-profits on the other hand, because it impacts the bottom line and if they continue to get money, they don't have to shift. And so there is a kind of a little bit of a false, there's a lag period that exists in the non-profit space that makes it difficult for them to discern whether a trend is really a trend or it's just a fad. And then there's also the issue of they often don't have the money to invest. So for profit business can go to the bank and say, "I need an investment," or, "I need to hire this person. Can you give me the money and the loan?" Non-profits can't really do that. It doesn't work that way. So I think it's problematic on a lot of levels. The other thing that complicates it is SBA loans are not available to non-profits.

So when they do see shifts, I would say they oftentimes see them or know that it exists, but they don't know how to make the change and also that it could be incremental. It doesn't have to be automatic. So it's one of the things I do in my strategic plans is really help see the future and then help them kind of figure out where they need to go. I would say at least 60% of the non-profits I work for are way behind where they need to be from a technology perspective. I oftentimes say technology is no longer an industry, it's a horizontal, because if you think about it, even in the healthcare space, the nurses that are going into healthcare have to understand technology because there's so many digital records. I'm sure in the oil, gas space you could actually give multiple examples of where technology is now essential. So to me, technology is something that's a strand throughout every industry and so the non-profit space has not seen that yet.

They've not experienced that yet and it worries me a lot that they don't really see all the things that need to be changed. They have multiple databases. Those databases don't talk to one another or they're not keeping the data clean and pure, so it's garbage in, garbage out. Their servers are duct taped together just right for a hacker and there's so many different examples. I mean, the only thing we have working for us is that people don't have high expectations of non-profits, so if they get multiple letters at a different address or they get an email they shouldn't have gotten, or if there's a delay in emails, it's no big deal. But I think eventually it's going to become a real problem and I think it's going to mean that a lot of millennials, for example, are going to just bypass the older dinosaur non-profits. And I'm not saying all non-profits are that way, but the ones who live in the dark ages, they'll pass them up, because they have zero tolerance for technology issues.

The website is not loading fast enough, if they can't get access to stuff, if the website, it has too much volume of data or information, they're so ... And I have to admit, I'm kind of have this way too like, so I need that instant gratification of I got to go somewhere and find it fast or I move along to the next website. So I think they're going to have to change. But I also think there's going to be some non-profits that don't survive, because they just aren't keeping up.

Micahel C.: That's a great point about not being able to survive just like a business. So going into the private sector, there's a lot of jobs and a lot of opportunities right now over the last decade that have grown for social media marketing, for being able to put together ads and do these things. We were talking earlier before the show started about what motivated millennials and Gen Xers, Gen Z, the same thing that motivates those individuals is different, I believe, than what motivated the baby boomer generation. And I don't think it's a thing of values or anything of that sort. I think it's just a change in economy, a change in ... and how the world works. But do you think over the next really decade you're going to start to see a lot of people who maybe have developed a lot of skills in the private sector start to fall into some of these jobs in non-profits and really start to bring a new awareness from a digital media standpoint in the non-profit?

Suzanne Smith: Absolutely. I would say when the CEO transitions, I've been a part of in the last two years, there's about 10 of those, I would say 50% came from the business space and the other 50% were kind of moved up in the non-profit space. And I would say there's challenges on both sides. I think people who come from the business space make an assumption that the non-profit space should be an easy thing to figure out and they come to a screeching halt in their first month going, "I don't understand this." It's just like any other industry. I couldn't transition to consumer package goods right now or oil and gas and be that effective, but people assume that the non-profit space is uncomplicated and if they have business expertise, they can instantly figure it out. And it's just complicated and it's a different business model and so it takes them awhile to understand it and there's a lot more collaboration. There's a lot more having to go out and get money and go out and get money in different ways.

I think the non-profit folks who move into those roles, I think you're absolutely right. If they're not upgrading their skills, we call it "up skilling" for short, then they're going to struggle, because I think non-profit boards are being more vigilant about thinking about the future. I mean these last 10 years have sped by quickly as far as the level of changes that are happening and so I oftentimes, when I do speeches, I talk about kind of game changing trends and most people are really astonished. They were like, "I can't believe all this is happening." And I'm pretty clear about you better get on board now fixing these things. If you're not measuring your impact, you're a dinosaur already and you've got to fix it, because you may be out of luck in the future. Because millennials and other folks, I oftentimes say we're moving away from the donor mentality to an investor mentality. People don't want to give their money and just walk away and say, "That's okay. Figure it out."

They want to give their money, stay involved as a volunteer and then they're going to ask, "Well, what return did you get?" Not actual monetary return, but, "How many lives did you save?" Or, "What difference did you make?" And if a non-profit isn't set up around that change of mentality, they're going to be in for some real shock very soon. But again, different places in the country are changing more rapidly. Like I said, Boston and Washington DC and it's in San Francisco, it's already there. Dallas is kind of slowly moving in that direction, although I still think we're kind of more about relationships and I think the baby boomers still have most of the wealth that is being given away. But I think over time we're going to see that shift in Dallas and Fort Worth and different places. Austin is already there. And so I think it's a matter of time before all the major metropolitan areas in Texas see this shift and Gen Xers and millennials are just, it's an expectation now. It's not an optional thing like it was with the baby boomers.

Micahel C.: What advice do you have for millennials and generation Zers who see themselves in a non-profit and coming from the social entrepreneurship area, what encouragement do you have for them whenever they're trying to figure out they want to make a difference in this world, they want to do something? But I bet if you were looking at the rise, just like in businesses, entrepreneurs and creating new businesses, there's probably had to be a ton of non-profits started in the last decade, couple of decades that weren't there before. I guess what advice do you have for millennials thinking that they have to start something to make a difference rather than maybe seeking out an organization that's already there that they can make a difference in and maybe take it from being a dinosaur to an innovative non-profit?

Suzanne Smith: I'm so glad you asked me that question, because that is one of the hardest things I have to do oftentimes is when I meet with people for coffee or over the phone. I get about 10 people would call me weekly, just to kind of talk to me about their idea or career transitions e.t.c., is that they have this non-profit idea and I unfortunately have to point to a non-profit who's doing the exact same thing. Or point out how hard it is to start a non-profit, that it's not just about your idea, it's also getting that idea funded and payroll and just all sorts of things. I have a brother-in-law who recently set up a non-profit in San Antonio and I have to sometimes step out of being supportive sister-in-law to non-profit consultant and remind him that it's probably not in his best interest to do X, Y, or Z. So that's hard, because it's your baby and you are excited about something. So I call that the difference between being an entrepreneur and being an intrepreneur.

So most of my students, I try to dissuade them from being an entrepreneur and be an intrepreneur first. And that actually is how I got my start, is I got to basically learn the lessons of the road and also make a paycheck at the same time and build retirement in my 20s for American Heart Association and Phoenix House. And so I got a whole lot of real lessons that I didn't have to pay for, that were so amazing and I actually have a couple of blog articles about what it was like to be a social entrepreneur. So I oftentimes will push people as much as I can to being an entrepreneur first. One, because we need their talent, but two, I think they're going to be best served long term if they actually invest in themselves and go within an organization. So then that's the second part of your question, which is how do you go about doing that? I think because I was an entrepreneur myself, I think I understand what they're dealing with.

They're going into an organization that doesn't always think through everything from end to end, oftentimes is chasing money versus chasing their mission. Maybe isn't keeping up with the latest in finance, HR, IT, maybe isn't as open to other ideas or not as innovative as a lot of I think millennials want to be. So I would encourage them to do what I encourage every CEO who's just starting, to spend the first 90 days being a consultant. And let me back up a little bit, I also encourage my students to do fit. One of the mistakes I made coming out of college is I just took the first job that I was offered, just terrible to admit, but I did because I needed to make money. And it was a terrible fit for me company-wise and it was a for profit at the time, a lobbying firm and the people there were great but it just wasn't a good environment for me. And so I tell all of my students, if you can really vet multiple opportunities, ask yourself some questions around your past employment of the type of place you want to work.

For example, is it an 8:00 to 5:00 place and you don't like waking up until 8:00 or you like working out in the morning or you like to be able to work from home or different things. Just know what really you're looking for and you don't want to make it too much for negotiation, but you really do want to tell them who you are and say, "Is this going to be a good thing for you?" Because there's lots of non-profits that are hiring. I think we're 10% of all jobs. And so I think you can be a little bit picky in the non-profit space and really get what you need, because you really do need two or three good years on your resume, you don't need to be job hopping. And so then when you get into the job, I think the unfortunate thing about millennials and Gen Xers and Z's from what I can tell is we immediately want to make a difference. And so we'll start suggesting a million things.

What we don't realize with a bunch of CEOs who are baby boomers, they've seen it a million times and they may have thought of that idea, but there's a whole lot of reasons why it's difficult to accomplish. And it also you lack context, because you're so brand new, so I recommend that in the first 90 days that they're a consultant rather than an employee. Not Legally, but just kind of in mindset to really learn the organization, ask a lot of questions before offering your advice. It's one of those things where I think it's hard to resist, but if you can resist it, I think your advice would be different on day one versus day 90 because you would have contacts, you'd have understanding, you look like you're curious, you would have trust already built in the organization. So I think the best advice I can give is resist, pouncing on an idea and just spend time getting to know the organization first and knowing that no job is perfect.

I always follow the 80/20 rule. If you like 80% of your job, then you're doing really good. It's going to be impossible to really like 100% of your job. I don't even like 100% of my job and so I think that's the other thing I tell them is, if you're looking for perfect, you're never going to find that. You just have to figure out what your ... It's just like dating for example, you just have to find your non-negotiables and then make sure that the non-negotiables are dealt with and then the rest of it you should just glide into it and just make the best of the situation.

Micahel C.: Well that is wonderful advice that you just gave our listeners. That's definitely advice that I think it was spoken from experience and if I was listening to this and I was considering going into a non-profit or shifting gears, that would be advice that I would definitely take in. From being a part of non-profits and working with millennials, I can see all of those things being true. As a leader in a non-profit, you do have to tread lightly though, just like in an organization as you're leading millennials and others, because you don't want to kill spirit. I think that their ideas are great but they do have to be honed to an extent and that just goes back to how important communication is, in no matter what organization you're in. But that's terrific advice and I think that speaks to millennials and it speaks to a lot of different groups of folks that could possibly be looking at going into the non-profit. And I really like what you said too about getting the experience before you want to just start making changes.

I think there is a level of experience even when you're entering just the normal workforce, that right away you want to start making a difference and it's not that easy. Suzanne, this is wonderful, chatting with you today and I'm sure we could keep going on and on, but I know that we're going to have to get the show wrapped up, but I hope in the future we can carry on some more discussion and-

Suzanne Smith: Absolutely

Micahel C.: ... possibly meet and chat again. I think this was a wonderful show. I think our listeners are going to be able to really get a lot out of this. There was a lot of things said in here that I really thought offers wonderful advice and like I said, spoken from experience. A lot of times you could just be a talking head and just giving off whatever the best advice that comes to your mind, but I could tell that was from experience. And you can take that, I don't want to say to the bank and non-profit, but you can take that and run with it and do some good in the world. How would our listeners get in touch with you, I guess share your contact information.

Suzanne Smith: Yeah, absolutely. So we have a really great website called socialimpactartichects.com. So it's architects with an "s" at the end. We actually call it that just because it's a play on words of the true good social solution should be built and designed, but it's both an art and a science. And so we have a website, we also have a blog that you can join that's called Social TrendSpotter and it's just such a variety of different topics. I oftentimes say within a month everybody is going to get something out of it. We also get a lot of reader requests around different topics and I also have client experiences. In fact, I oftentimes have clients saying, "Did you write this about me?" And I'm like, "No, I didn't write about you, but I wrote it up in general about something I'm seeing." So even today I was like, "Okay, there's a good blog of like this IT issue that you brought up." I think that'd be a good blog for me to write or maybe co-write with you and you can talk about it from your experience.

And then we also do teaching and training across the country. So if folks are interested in any place in the world, I oftentimes just follow where I'm going and you can also invite me to come speak. And then also too, if you are interested, I do teach a course at University of Texas at Arlington. It's going to start in the spring. It's on Saturdays. So it's easy for people who are working if they want to come take a audit, a couple of classes, I'm very happy to do that. I've got a pretty large classroom, so I oftentimes have people who will sit in on a couple of classes. So those are just some different opportunities for you. And then on my website if you have detailed questions and like I said, I try to answer every question, free of charge, do lunches and coffees because that's how I got where I am, there's a lot of people who are willing to do that for me and so I'm paying it forward. So you can also send me an email directly through the website of any questions that you have.

Micahel C.: Well terrific. Well thank you for being on the show today, you're a wonderful guest and look forward to chatting more in the future with you.

Suzanne Smith: Awesome. Good.

Micahel C.: Well, listeners, this was another great show. Thank you for checking us out again. Once again, this is Manufacturing Leadership. I'm your host Michael Clements. You can reach out to us, we'd love to hear your feedback. You can send us an email to podcast@energyweldfab.com. Also you can check our podcast out or tell your friends to check it out at energyweldfab.com/podcast and we're also on all the major podcasts' channels. For example, on your iPhone if you have podcasts, you can just simply do a search for Manufacturing Leadership and you'll find us there. We do want to ask you to hit subscribe, leave a review, and tell a friend. And check us out also on social media at Energy Weldfab. You can find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. So thank you again for listening and look forward to bringing you great more material in the future. Thank you.

In This Episode

  • The communities and areas that Suzanne speaks and works with in Texas.

  • How Suzanne got into her line of work and the details of her job.

  • Methods for social change.

  • Correlation between being a social entrepreneur versus being a leader.

  • The importance of a results-driven and solution-oriented approach to social change.

  • KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for nonprofits and their importance.

  • Why trust and two-way communication is vital for social organizations.

  • The real reasons for value statements.

  • A breakdown of Suzanne’s process for determining values in an organization.

  • What a ‘mission moment’ is.

  • How the best cultures are not top-down but side-to-side.

  • Why companies should learn to pivot.

  • Technology and how it affects the longevity of a nonprofit’s time in circulation.

  • Advice for millennials and those in Generation Z who are searching for nonprofits.


  • Texas has the 10th largest economy in the world, so it is an absolutely great place to be an entrepreneur.

  • Millennials and Gen Xers are wanting more and more to step outside of the traditional corporate dynamic and find community-driven work.

  • Charity is an amazing endeavor, but it has its limitations. It all goes back to the famous maxim of giving a man a fish versus teaching him to fish. And even moving beyond this, you could create a whole fishing industry to build on teaching a man to fish.

  • Measuring data is essential for improving and driving the action of your nonprofit, but there’s such thing as over-measuring. There must be a balance between the quantitative analysis and action that accompanies that data measurement.

  • 9 out of 10 companies that Suzanne interacts with use outdated business methods on a social entrepreneurship basis. They also often don’t have visions or value statements.

  • Just asking the question “are we on target? Did we achieve our mission?” On a regular basis as a group is very important for keeping focus.

  • Seeing future trends and shifts in the business climate is much more difficult for nonprofits largely because of a lack of resources and effective methodology. A for-profit can get a loan from a bank for an investment that a nonprofit can’t. The opportunities are different, which translates to more difficulties for nonprofits.

  • Suzanne says that at least 60% of the nonprofits she works for have outdated technology.

  • For millennials or those fresh out of college, really take the time to assess how well you mesh with whatever organization you’re offered a job for. Don’t take the first job that sends an offer.


  • The Social Impact Architects Website: https://socialimpactarchitects.com/

  • The Social TrendSpotter Blog: https://socialimpactarchitects.com/blog/

  • Suzanne Smith Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/suzannesmithtx/

  • Suzanne Smith Twitter: https://twitter.com/Suzanne4tx


  • “We’ve always had small businesses. We’ve always had family-owned businesses. But now we actually have this strain of real concentration around entrepreneurship.”

  • “It’s been fun for me over the last 9 years to bring a concept to a state I love so much.”

  • “Social entrepreneurs don’t just do good, they want to get results from the good that they do.”

  • “Unless you set the target, there’s no way you’re actually going to hit it.”

  • “This is the interesting thing about leadership: you have to know when to be a leader and when to be a follower.”

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