Suzy Dorward: Lifetime Achievement in Fundraising

A fundraising success rooted in storytelling

By Gail Paul

Suzy Dorward, being honored for her Lifetime Achievement in Fundraising, has raised funds for some of the region’s largest organizations and foundations – largely by listening, learning and sharing her knowledge. 

Suzy Dorward: Lifetime Achievement in Fundraising
Suzy Dorward

Dorward retired this year after more than 30 years, during which she estimates she helped raise more than $155 million for the arts, parks system, education, access to health care and food and other causes. 

She is quick to acknowledge that she did not achieve this alone – her framework for fundraising has included efforts by board members, volunteers and co-workers around shared goals.

“You have to have a good program mission,” she said. “You have to have a good story to tell, and you have to have a really good team of coworkers who get together and say, for the good of the cause we are just going to get this done.”

Persistence, meaningful relationships and relentless optimism are strengths Dorward said she cultivated. Jon Labbe, her supervisor at Mercy Health Foundation, calls her a convenor, a mentor and a coach. Suzy DeYoung called working with Dorward on La Soupe’s 2020 capital campaign “one of the greatest blessings of my La Soupe life.” 

Dorward’s stewardship enabled La Soupe to meet the growing need for access to healthy food during the pandemic. Dorward came out of retirement in 2019 to join La Soupe as development director and lead the $5 million “915 Capital Campaign.” The “915” refers to the organization’s new Walnut Hills address on East McMillan Street.

DeYoung said Dorward transformed La Soupe. 

“When she came to us, we were headquartered in a 900-square-foot converted garage. We had big dreams to expand our mission,” DeYoung said. “Suzy made all of our dreams possible, surpassing our $5 million capital campaign goal in just 18 short months.” 

Dorward raised another $1 million to launch an emergency Community Kitchen Program that got food service employees cooking for food-insecure neighbors. In 2020, Community Kitchens transformed more than 100,000 pounds of rescued food into about 700,000 servings.

Dorward called La Soupe’s model “brilliant” – rescuing and transforming food that would otherwise go to waste. “If I’m going to blow out the candles on this career, this is where I’d want it to be. La Soupe is a social service agency, but I was involved with the business side of it, providing them with the physical facility large enough to execute the mission.” 

The new 10,000-square-foot headquarters is quickly being absorbed. “The need is even greater than what we anticipated,” Dorward said.

A heart for St. Rita

Dorward graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a business degree and a master’s in public affairs, then coordinated public relations and special events at St. Rita School for the Deaf in Evendale. She had a heart for the school’s students and its mission. “I found that I was pretty good at engaging people to give me money,” she said. She spent six years at St. Rita and dozens more as a volunteer and board chair.

“Suzy is a fundraiser who knows how to share the stories that make an impact,” said Angela Frith, president of St. Rita.

Dorward then worked raising funds for Greater Cincinnati YMCA, Cincinnati Parks Foundation, Fine Arts Fund (now ArtsWave) and Mercy Health Foundation.

Mercy Health’s Labbe said the No. 1 reason people do not give is that they aren’t asked. “Suzy has that bold energy to be able to ask because it’s the right thing to do,” Labbe said. As a Catholic health care system, Mercy Health connected with Dorward personally. “Her faith is very important to her.”

Dorward said the pandemic has changed philanthropy. “It forced us to think a little differently about the whole process of fundraising.” At La Soupe, her team produced a video of food transformation and delivery, instead of inviting donors to tour the facility.

Overall, donors have had more time to determine what causes to support, she said. Virtual galas have succeeded, especially for the more-established nonprofits.

Many groups, great things

“I think that COVID may have, and I mean this nicely, had some organizations step back and say, maybe we should combine with somebody else. Maybe we can’t weather this kind of a storm,” Dorward said. “And I think that’s one of the challenges we have in Cincinnati and in every community that has an abundance of well-intentioned organizations doing great things. It’s hard for the funders.”

Dorward said she appreciates every single donation. “I know that sounds cliché, but there have been some surprise donors who have helped save the day, and you breathe, and then you say, ‘Oh my goodness, thank you!’ ”

People who have inspired Dorward’s career include:

The late Charlie Gilhart, former president of St. Rita’s board and chair of St. Rita’s annual festival. “He taught me how to be a business person first and a fundraiser second. To focus on what we needed to do and then figure out how to make it happen with my fundraising spin.”

Carolyn McCoy, a foundation executive trailblazer at Fifth Third and Greater Cincinnati Foundation, is Dorward’s mentor. “She is someone who has guided me from the standpoint of fundraising, foundations and building relationships.”

Mary McCullough-Hudson, former president and CEO of ArtsWave, “taught me how to make fundraising fun through her leadership and sense of humor.”

And Dorward’s 97-year-old mother, Pat, who raised eight children, “taught us how to be collaborative, and who we are, through a lot of faith, which often means giving back. She inspires me every day.”

The NPD 2021 Honorees

Philanthropists of the Year: Rosemary & Mark Schlachter

Volunteer of the Year: Debbie Brant

Lifetime Achievement in Fundraising: Suzy Dorward

Organization of the Year: Legacy Foundations of Louis & Louise Nippert

Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy: Mitch Stone (in memoriam)

Innovator of the Year: United Way’s Champions of Change

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