Accomplishments 2 | Susan Putnam

Susan Putnam


Award-winning Community Relations Professional and Non-profit Leader

Grand Rapids, MI


Organization Leadership Insights

"There is nothing more important to an organization than the passion that resides in the hearts and souls of the staff, the Board, donors and the community."

– Susan Putnam

Negotiated for the Acquisition of New Office Space while Simultaneously Building Outstanding Community Relations

It was the middle of winter, but there was one particular building that had been on the market for nearly a year.   It was known as the “Bolger and Battle” building and it was on the market for $320,000, way out of our price range.   It was the perfect home for us!   The square footage was 4,400 on two floors with windows galore.  It was modern and painted in bright colors – kid friendly colors.



Neighboring Big Brothers Big Sisters Agency Was Failing

In late 2011, the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization serving two neighboring counties was about to go out of business.  I was approached by a member of the Board of Directors indicating the agency was struggling.  

United Way Launches First Online Donation Platform

While I was the Community Relations and Public Affairs manager at IBM in Minneapolis, I was responsible for running IBM’s United Way campaign in 12 states, encompassing nearly 20,000 employees.   I understood how valuable online giving could be in terms of increasing revenues and I also knew how to promote it to employees. 

Neighboring Big Brothers Big Sisters Agency was Failing



In late 2011, the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization serving two neighboring counties was about to go out of business.  I was approached by a member of the Board of Directors indicating the agency was struggling.   Revenues were down, the number of children served was at a standstill and there was only one caseworker remaining on staff to serve 152 matches (a match is one volunteer Big to one child, the Little.)   A few years earlier, this agency had nearly 400 matches and five caseworkers.

Action Plan

This discussion was the opening of the door to determine if our agency would be interested in a merger.   It was absolutely critical that our Board of Directors be involved from the outset, and I called a meeting of the Executive Committee.   From that very first meeting, Board members stressed that our overriding focus was the children who would go without a mentor if the Saginaw/Bay agency closed its doors.  Saginaw, Michigan was listed as the fourth highest crime city per capita in the nation, and the needs of the community’s youth were staggering.   Despite this, we questioned whether we were up to the challenge; it was a giant leap into unknown territory.   Concerns about the budget and staffing were paramount.

It took vision as well as meticulous number crunching to move forward.   What were the current costs of running the Saginaw/Bay agency?   Where did the current revenues come from and what was the potential for new revenue?   How would we serve more children and how soon could we be in a position to grow? I spent weeks with excel spreadsheets running growth scenarios.   Revenues were the toughest part because it was clear that some key financial support was no longer there.   My staffing plan, tied to revenue projections, called for the creation of a Marketing and Fund Development Director position that would have responsibility for all four counties.  I felt strongly that this position was key and pushed hard for it with the Board.  Promotions for several key staff members and transparent communications were crucial to getting buy in from our current team.

A factor that played in to support of a four-county agency was that the business community was already aligning itself and creating a Chamber of Commerce type organization known as the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance to provide more opportunities for business collaboration.   There was tremendous support from the President of the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance as well as businesses that served the region.   Dow Chemical, the region’s largest employer, was extremely supportive.


By April of 2012, the Board of Directors was confident in approving the merger, forming a new four-county agency known as Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Great Lakes Bay Region.   We announced the new agency at our 25th annual Golf for Kids’ Sake fundraising event, inviting the Presidents of all four Chambers of Commerce as well as the regional United Ways to the announcement.   The President of the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance served as our keynote speaker.   The real success came from the business community who showed their support with funding, and in the first six months of our coming together, we had raised nearly $100,000.  This early financial boost provided validation to other foundations and businesses to lend their support.  Big Brothers Big Sisters was now serving a four county area, doubling our geographic territory and eventually doubling the number of children we served.