150 Profiles: Susan Smitten

As we mark the 150th anniversary of confederation, The Philanthropist is profiling Canadians from across the non-profit sector and putting a face to 150 individuals who work or volunteer in Canada’s social sector.

Name: Susan Smitten

Current role in the sector: Executive Director of RAVEN (Respecting Aboriginal Values & Environmental Needs)

Years working and/or volunteering in the non-profit sector: Eight and a half years.

What was your first job in the sector or a defining moment?
It’s hard to pick one defining moment, but at the top of the pile is the day in November 2010 when the Federal Government ​rejected for the first time Taseko’s Prosperity mine and took a stand for Tsilhqot’in sacred land and water based on the evidence presented at the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency review. After just 18 months at the helm of RAVEN, I realized a legal theory of change is the way forward—and would be a tangible, measurable force that could result in true reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and protect the environment in a way that governments cannot be relied on to do.

Susan Smitten profile picture
© Brian Van Wyk

Describe your desk/workspace.
I sit at a brand new desk in a bright new office on the 5th floor of one of the oldest buildings in downtown Victoria. We moved from 300 square feet to a palatial 750 square feet for five staff—and my desk sits in the middle of our talented team, overlooking the street and in the sun. It’s an inspiring space to work and create. ​

What are you reading or following that has expanded your understanding of the non-profit sector?
RAVEN sits in a unique niche—and has worked outside the norms of most non-profits, but for the past few years the blog entries by Classy have been very helpful. They are practical, help us to both understand our donors and their platform and the best way to interact between the two. In particular, they stress that every time someone donates to our organization, it has to be the best decision they ever made (at least that day!) and we take that to heart. ​

What do you think our sector needs to be thinking about?
We need to look societally at the role we expect charities to play.  RAVEN has a vision that would see us close the doors because we live in a nation that honours Indigenous stewardship within a thriving natural habitat. We exist currently through necessity. That said–to keep the doors open and raise the legal defence funds needed for Indigenous-led court actions, the philanthropic elephant in the room continues to be a reluctance to pay for core costs like staff and rent. Lots has been written on this, yet foundations and funders cling to old-school ideas that if you work in a charity you must be willing to do it for free or live in poverty.  It’s time to ditch that outdated nugget.

Do you know someone we should profile as part of this series? Email us at philanthropistprofiles@gmail.com

Susan Smitten is Executive Director of RAVEN (Respecting Aboriginal Values & Environmental Needs).