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  • Impact Austin

Member Spotlight: Board President Susan Palombo

When Susan Palombo moved to Austin with her husband from Minneapolis four years ago, Impact Austin kept coming up in conversations with people she met.

“I had been involved in a lot of community service and board work in Minnesota, and I loved that dimension of my life. When I got to Austin, so many people said, ‘You have to get connected with Impact Austin. You will love the organization.’” 

So she joined with two goals in mind: to meet new people and to get a quick education about the community and the nonprofits that are successfully tackling community problems. “Joining Impact Austin was a win on both of those fronts,” she says. “I’ve met so many amazing women who are so giving, “other-focused”, and incredibly bright.”

As a team leader and wealth management advisor with Merrill Lynch working with ultra-high-net-worth individuals and private foundations, Susan’s background advising institutions, endowments and foundations has given her expertise in governance, which made her a natural asset to the grant review process and eventually the board of Impact Austin. She immediately jumped on a Grant Review Committee (GRC) and stayed closely involved ever since. 

“I have worked on Community, Education, and Health & Wellness GRCs. When I choose to join an organization, I just jump in and get involved. I want to contribute my skills and experience to offer solutions.” 

She also wanted to make sure that if she involved other people in Impact Austin, she was confident that the money was being given away in a fair and disciplined manner. 

“I was extremely impressed with how organized the grant review process was, how organized and methodical the playbook is, and how consistently it’s administered from one committee to the next,” she says.

This was Susan’s third year on the board and she just started her term as board president after Lauren Paver’s term ended in June. We caught up with her at 24 Diner in downtown Austin on a busy morning before her first client meeting to discuss her goals for Impact Austin.

What can we expect during your term as board president?

It’s important to go back to where we are as an organization. We’ve passed our 15-year anniversary and we’re an organization that has so much to celebrate. Rebecca Powers and the “Kitchen Table Six” were ahead of their time in really thinking about philanthropy in a new way at our founding. They were changing the face of philanthropy by involving so many women in our community to lend their skillsets. Many of the women who first founded Impact Austin are ready to pass the baton and enjoy their retirement years. We are so grateful to these women who basically worked full-time professional jobs with no pay for Impact Austin! Austin has changed a lot since Impact Austin was founded. We live in a much more diverse community in so many ways. So how do we take this volunteer-driven organization to the next level to reflect the wider diversity of our community—including skillsets, ages, races, religions, socioeconomic backgrounds, etc.— and continue to build this incredibly robust organization? That’s where our strategic planning process has been critical. Lauren Paver and Sarah Harris were so instrumental in that process—they did the research that led to a lot of work streams that addressed the changing management issues and growing pains. The plan outlines Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) strategies and how to move in a direction that embraces a broader audience in a meaningful way.  

We are also thinking about new initiatives, such as other ways we could be helping our community partners. And we are focused on raising more money. It doesn’t take a math Ph.D. to see that we need to come up with new ways of raising money so we better deliver on our mission. We made progress in FY 2019 and achieved our fundraising goals under our Advancement Chair Mary Campana’s leadership. Former Board President Lauren Paver will lead advancement to increased goals in FY 2020. And we are looking at new ways to recruit members, recognizing that our traditional coffees may not work for every community. We’re reaching out to members in different communities and having their voices at the table to see what other formats of membership recruiting might be more effective.

What are you most looking forward to in your new role?

We’re in a really important place and I’m excited for all the changes. I went to UT-Austin for undergraduate and then moved away for 30 years.  I loved the Austin back then and I also love the community that ATX is becoming. I am very enthusiastic to help Impact Austin evolve to serve and be a relevant leader for our community for the 2020s. 

Now that Christina [Executive Director Christina Canales Gorczynski], has been here a year and we’ve reached stability, I’m looking forward to implementing our strategic plan. I want to thank the members for their support. Change is hard in any organization!  We would love to hear thoughts and opinions and members should know they can reach out to me at any time.

I’m also looking forward to our new Social Innovation Grant process, which will take place in the off-season in the fall and involve a shorter time horizon, allowing members who can’t participate on a GRC in the winter/spring time period a new opportunity to become more involved. The grant will be awarded to a collaborative of two or more organizations working toward a common goal. This year, the Social Innovation Grant will be in the amount of $110,000 and will focus on identifying and funding work to advance equity for women and girls of color in Central Texas. The grant will be announced at the Town Hall meeting in November, which will also feature a fantastic speaker from the Lilly School of Philanthropy at the University of Indiana, which has conducted a recent study on unique aspects of philanthropy in communities of women of color. They did a longitudinal study for Merrill Lynch and they have a campaign going on now about the changing face of philanthropy and how incredibly giving women have been with not as much notoriety as men. Our community is changing and philanthropy means something broader than it used to. 

What else do you want Impact Austin members and prospective members to know?

We really just want Impact Austin to be a great experience for our members and for them to feel like they’re fulfilled in this process and that they’re helping to solve some of the most important issues in the community. We want them to feel like they’re growing and changing and having a really good experience along the way.


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