Susan Butler Plum

Senior Advisor, Skadden Fellowships

How old is your organization? 31 years
What sector do you work in? Philanthropy
How long have you been working in this sector? 40 years
How long have you been with your current organization? 31 years

What has been the most significant development in your sector over the last 40 years?  More community representation in decision-making.

What has been the greatest challenge during this same period?
Learning to listen to others outside of our sector.

Describe a key event that has impacted your sector in the last 40 years?
9/11 made us realize how much xenophobia there is in our country. 

How has communication—with staff, clients, and/or donors—changed over the course of the last 40 years?
Different sectors are beginning to listen to one another. 

What is the single greatest challenge you face today in your sector?

What leadership qualities are necessary to succeed as a nonprofit executive today?
Keen listening skills and broad news intake.

How do you see shifting views on race, gender, sexuality, age, immigration status, educational achievement, wealth, poverty, and health affecting your organization in the future?
They can only help us do our job better. 

What will nonprofits need to do to remain relevant and necessary to their clients over the next 40 years?
We must get out of our offices and into the communities.

What skills do you believe are necessary for people to succeed as managers over the next few decades?
Improved listening and broader intellectual curiosity.

Where would you like to see your sector in 40 years?
Underwritten by more diverse donors.

Why did you join this sector?
I am an optimist and I think philanthropy is fundamentally an optimistic enterprise. 

In what ways would others say you are a trailblazer?
Nothing like the Skadden Fellowships has ever been undertaken before. 

Why did you want to become a Senior Advisor?
After 30 years as founding director, I wanted to train my successor.

Please describe one of your most significant challenges during your career and how you overcame it.
I guess being a nonprofit and a non-lawyer at a major law firm was a challenge, but from the beginning, the firm took me seriously.

If you were just starting out in your sector today, what advice would the person you are today give to the “newbie”?
Read The New York Times closely and get out and do site visits.

What were the biggest challenges you faced in your career?
Being taken seriously.

What do you want your work culture to be like?
Fair and open.

Please name three qualities that are inherent in being a strong leader.
Intellectual curiosity, keen listening skills and a deep sense of fairness.

Based on your experience, please offer one piece of advice to a person hoping to break through as a leader in your sector.
Show curiosity about others. 

Find out more
Skadden Fellowship Website


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