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Susan Madon

Susan Madon

Introduce yourself to our audience. Tell us who you are and what you are currently focused on.

I am a natural-born coach and cheer-leader in the nonprofit sector. I am inspired by the tremendous work done each day by the millions of nonprofit organizations all over the world and love helping them thrive. In my years as a development leader and consultant, I have had the pleasure to work with numerous educational, faith-based, arts and cultural, and health-related agencies and groups.

I specialize in strategic and development planning and strive to make these critical processes as stress-free as possible!

I am also a trained actor and have gotten into voice acting during the Covid crisis. It's so wonderful to have this outlet!

Tell us about your favorite Ellevate Network memory or success story. Why are you a member?

Recently I attended a fabulous webinar on "Building your Personal Brand." The speakers were so engaging and the insights were incredibly helpful. I thought I had been making inroads into my personal brand work and realized I've just scratched the surface! Now have a tool-kit to really broaden my reach!

How would you define your professional mission?

Live honestly and with integrity; Embrace humor; Generosity is a renewable resource; Expect success; Never stop learning.

What qualities does it take for someone to be successful in your line of work?

Being a successful fundraiser is very similar to being a good salesperson. You need to match the needs of the donor with the needs of your organization. It is critical to be personable and organized with a sense of perseverance but not aggression. Having a good understanding of data analysis (whether or not you do the actual analysis) is also important. As an executive, fundraising is never far away so the most effective Executive Directors are those who don't push this important duty off to staff. People give peer to peer so as an ED or board member there is no getting away from it!

What are some career challenges on your radar?

Ageism. Sad but true. I'm 56 and starting to notice friends who are being left out of the running for key projects due to their age. I'm concerned about that and it's a shame because I feel I'm in the best health I have ever been in and have so much experience to share with others. I strive not to be a "Debbie Downer" and focus too much on that issue but it sticks in the back of my mind as a niggling worry....

We’d love to hear more about your career path. What led you to where you are today?

After years of acting and teaching (including singing telegrams!) I sought advice from the board chair at the school I was teaching in. She was the head of Advancement at a large medical center. Knowing my interest in charitable work, she recommended I move into fundraising as a way to earn a reasonable salary if I wanted to stay in the sector. My first post was as a regional director for the American Heart Association where I established boards in three counties. The American Heart Association was an outstanding proving ground to learn the business of fundraising. From there I moved to the Berkshire Museum where I served as Director of Marketing, Membership, and Public Relations despite not having training in any of these areas! It was trial by fire and I learned that exceptional time management would be the only way I would succeed. From there I moved to NYC and acted as lead consultant to over 125 schools. It was enormously challenging but completely fulfilling. After gaining my MBA I moved on to the French Institute Alliance Francaise and from there to the University of Southern California in Hong Kong. I never imagined my life would take me to so many remarkable organizations and people!

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

I love the strategic planning process! Gathering people together to forge a vision for the future of their organization is incredibly meaningful. Defining a workable plan to reach goals is inspiring. Even better is checking in with the organization after some time and seeing how they are progressing toward their goals. It's like the "Little Engine That Could!" So many great things can happen when informed and interested people come together for positive action.

What legacy do you hope to leave through your work?

I've been blessed to mentor many people. That they can now carry on to live fulfilling lives of purpose, enterprise, and self-discovery is very exciting!

What is it about your job that makes you feel it’s the right fit for you?

I think I'm a natural teacher, mentor, and coach. Those skills, along with my years of experience as a non-profit leader provide the qualities clients seek when further their organization's mission. I love strategy, research, and helping people identify their vision and goals. Making a difference in the lives of others is important to me.

Who are your role models?

People who have been underdogs. Those who have had to struggle to reach success. My first role models were the nuns and teachers in my school, Amelia Earhart, Shirley Chisholm, Ella Fitzgerald, and Marie Curie. These days, I follow Brene Brown, Nancy Pelosi, Kamala Harris, and even the singer Keisha! I'm going out on a limb by sharing this but I grew up in a poor alcoholic home, and was homeless for a time. A single parent at 19, I didn't finish my undegraduate degree until a week before my 30th birthday. I suffered for years with undiagnosed Bi-Polar Disorder. I'm thrilled to say that that is under control, I am happily married, my son is now working in a field he loves as a digital gaming executive, and I am working in an industry I love.

What is your morning ritual?

Each morning I wake up and set an intention for the day. Then I make coffee! Nothing good starts without a cup of joe! After my first cup, I meditate for 20 minutes and then have breakfast and journal. Three mornings a week I follow this practice with a workout with my trainer (virtual but still incredibly valuable!). The other mornings I go for a walk when the weather is good.

My son is grown and out of the house so I don't have the morning mad dash any longer and I relish the "found" time!

What is your favorite social media site? Why?

I'm a Linkedin fiend for my nonprofit management practice and Instagram for my voiceover work! Each has its own appeal. I keep up with my connections and have many opportunities for professional development.

What would you say your personal superpower is?

I can talk to anyone! I love walking into a room of strangers and coming out with new friends. One trick when networking is to challenge oneself to always meet 3 new people and have a meaningful conversation with each of them. Then follow up the next day with something that helps them (An article or link, restaurant recommendation, etc.). I started using this trick years ago when I saw my team standing around at an event chatting with each other and not meeting new people! This challenge never fails to get even the timidest of my teammates to circulate and have fun in the process!

What does success look like to you?

I feel very grateful about the career and life I lead and want to help others. My personal goals include buying a retirement house for my brother and his wife and providing for my niece's college education. Success for me means I will reach those financial goals. In addition, I want to continue to build my management consulting practice while also having time for my voiceover work. My husband always tells me not to mention that for fear I will sound trivial to potential clients. I respectfully disagree. I think people have more than one skill, talent, or ability and should definitely make time for interests outside their "day job!"

Is work-life balance a problem for you? What is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?

It used to be. I struggled for a long time setting limits at work. My no-fail tactic to create balance is to create certain non-negotiables: adequate sleep, healthy eating, exercise, meditation, fun. I have to have these things for optimal performance. If I am stuck with a tough project, I make sure I budget the time for the 5 non-negotiables. If I'm dealing with a demanding client who doesn't share my values, I make the case that I will be much more effective if I can get some rest. If we can't come to an accommodation, we may part ways but happily, that has never happened!

What advice would you offer future leading ladies wishing to break into your industry?

Nonprofit development is all about relationships. Learn to enjoy spending time with others and choose your cause carefully because you will be its ambassador! If you are only lukewarm about the mission, donors will spot it. Also, protect yourself from burnout by streamlining any process that doesn't add to the triple bottom line. Lastly, you can't do it alone so if your budget doesn't run to staff or outsourcing, find a way to engage good volunteers.

What is the best career advice you ever received?

Get a master's degree! I was working at the Archdiocese of New York as Deputy Director of Educational Development when the Director left for another position. The Executive Director for all fundraising, an amazing woman, named Helen Lowe, called me in for my annual review. The first thing she said was, "Have you ever thought of getting an MBA?" I was a theatre major in college and barely took any math classes! I thought she was joking but she explained that when she earned her MBA she doubled her salary within a year of graduating. With her support, I was accepted to the Executive MBA program at Columbia University. The experience was life-changing and I never looked back. Not only did I stretch my brain, challenging the analytical side of myself, but I met great people. And she was right! Within a year of graduation, I was doubling my salary!

What is one piece of advice you’d offer working moms?

Don't miss a moment of it! My son is 36 now and I was a single working mom with no other source of income. It was challenging at times because I had to work at some low-level jobs and didn't have the social clout in the early days to be home with my son when I wanted to be. When he was 10, I took a job as a teacher in order to have the same schedule. I'm so glad we had that time and I never missed a game!

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.