Feature Story

Suzanne Swift

Marketing Consultant for Nonprofits

Suzanne Swift began working as a marketing consultant with a desire to help others. She saw many smaller organizations that needed strategic support, but were unable to hire their own in-house marketing person. Before jumping into the nonprofit world, Suzanne worked in the high-tech industry, at companies like Microsoft, and has since worked with organizations such as the Women’s Funding Alliance, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Cancer Society and many more.

Q: You’re a great example of how we can all use our strengths and interests to uplift others. Tell us where you found your passion for marketing and how you’ve used it to help nonprofits.

Suzanne Swift: I was interested in non-profits long before I was interested in marketing. In 1996 I decided to pursue an MBA and planned to go into non-profit management. While I was in school I became intrigued by the potential and power of both social and cause related marketing. By the time I graduated I had a dual concentration in non-profit management and marketing. I have found that there are a lot of amazing organizations doing heroic work but sometimes they are not great at tooting their own horns or reaching the clients that they would most like to serve. I love it when I am able to help a worthwhile organization increase their reach and influence by leveraging the same strategies that make companies successful.

Q: Working for a big corporation like Microsoft is significantly different than working with smaller nonprofits. Why did you decide to make this career change, and how did you overcome any difficulties that were associated with it?

Suzanne Swift: I was at Microsoft in the early 90s when the company was relatively small. Although I knew my heart was in non-profits, when I was offered the opportunity to be a part of Microsoft it was too tempting to decline. Being at Microsoft gave me an understanding of how for-profits think about solving problems and how to organize and manage really big teams addressing really big markets. At Microsoft I was very deeply focused, but over time realized that I prefer smaller organizations that offered exposure to many more parts of the business. At a small non-profit I could be involved with many aspects of the business and since I am often the only marketing person I get to work on everything from PR to printed collateral to social marketing. Sometimes it is hard to be so broad but it really forces me to stay on my toes.

Q: Being a consultant instead of an employee can be a scary thing. What advice can you offer on how to make this kind of career work?

Suzanne Swift: Since I am a little risk adverse I eased into consulting and then I worked hard to keep my expenses really low. I started consulting in 2004 after I had been the director of marketing at a women’s foundation in Seattle. The foundation invested in lots of small organizations and though the foundation I developed a deep professional network. Even before I officially quit my job I had clients lined up. When I moved to Madison in 2004 I had no network in the community and decided to go back to work as the director of marketing for a public policy think tank. I had this job for three years until I had deeper roots in the community and could leave my job without too much risk. I have found that it takes a few years to really get things going but knowing potential clients and people in your community or field really helps and dramatically reduces your risk.

Q: At Career Woman Inc., we value the importance of mentorship in career development. Describe your most important mentor and how they helped you achieve success.

Suzanne Swift: As with many women, I don’t have one person who is my mentor but instead I have a wide group of people that have supported me along my path. While it would be nice to have one-stop shopping in the mentor department I have found that I like having different perspectives when I am struggling with something tough. One of my mentors was my manager at Microsoft and she has supported me for almost twenty years. I also have a newer mentor that is a lawyer working with non-profits in my community. Both women have referred clients to me but more importantly they offer different perspectives that I would not otherwise have access to.