On a national level, Susan Donahue is the board co-chair of Health Leads, an organization working at the intersection of poverty and healthcare, addressing the social determinants of health. She is also the board co-chair of Beyond Conflict, an organization that assists societies with finding peaceful resolutions to international conflicts. In addition, Susan is on the board, and former board chair, of the nationally broadcast Talking Information Center for the Visually Handicapped.
In Boston, Massachusetts, Susan is on the board of the Boston Medical Center (BMC), New England’s largest safety net hospital. She is currently co-chairing the hospital’s capital campaign and also sits on its Captive Insurance Board. Susan is a long-time trustee of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and former chair of its Board of Overseers for the trustees. She sits on a number of advisory boards including the Boston family service agency, The Home for Little Wanderers, national mentoring movement, Eye to Eye, and the Crittenton Women’s Union. She is a former board member of the Boston Children’s Chorus and the Hestia Fund.
A proponent of education, Susan has been involved with an array of educational institutions including the Boston public school system’s STEP program, the Max Warburg Courage Curriculum and the Research Institute for Learning Development, as well as Skidmore, Dartmouth and Trinity Colleges.
Susan is the founder of three nonprofit organizations including a therapeutic horseback riding program, a local education foundation (LEF) and the Boston chapter of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums. She lives near Boston with her husband Digger Donahue, Managing Partner of BBH.
1. How many nonprofit boards have you served on, both currently and in the past?
I’ve been on well over a dozen boards, but the more interesting question often is: “What do you do on the board?” I have had the privilege of being on every type of committee, from audit to marketing, including some really odd ones! I’ve chaired quite a few governance, nominating and development committees, and I work with many nonprofits on developing their governance and management infrastructure to evolve more strategically and assure sustainability. Currently, I co-chair two boards, co-chair a capital campaign for another and chair a cultural engagement effort at one other.
2. What quality do you value most in a nonprofit board member?
3. You have such a wide range of organizations that you work with, but many more must ask you for your time and expertise. How do you decide to commit your time and energy to a charity?
Two things are hugely important: interest and impact.
When it comes to interest, you need to feel passionate about the mission and believe in the leadership; people bet on people who are going to be able to inspire and execute. While I have been involved in everything from art museums and educational institutions to an organization solving for world peace, I am particularly interested in the nexus of poverty and healthcare.
By impact, I mean both personal impact – that I will bring a unique set of skills and resources to further the mission of the organization – and that the organization has a strategy that is capable of significantly influencing the issue it is focused on.
4. What does confidence mean to you?
Confidence is daring to do the right thing, even when it is not the easy thing and you are not assured of success. A lot of my early lessons in confidence were learned the hard way on the playing fields. I had the privilege of captaining three sports in high school – I wasn’t a great athlete, but I was willing to put myself out there and try. I learned that winning isn’t satisfying unless the credit is shared with the whole team; losing is miserable, but you not only survive it, you learn a lot from it, and the next time you lose, it won’t be from the same mistakes; thorough preparation always serves you well; and effort really matters
5. What advice would you give your 20-something-year-old self?
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