Photography by Danny Fulgencio.

Suzanne Massey has always had a passion for community service. Whether it was participating in junior league, a sorority event or addressing walkability and access to education in Dallas, she’s made sure to do what she can to give back. Massey left her position as director of community relations at SMU last year to take on a new challenge as a vice president at Santander Consumer USA Foundation, which invests in agencies and organizations looking to create change in their respective communities. As a vice president, Massey has a say in which organizations the foundation will fund and where to direct the pledged $2 million in investments throughout different communities this year.

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Suzanne Massey

What is your role at the foundation? I actually get to serve multiple communities. We’re doing investments through our foundation in the Phoenix area, in the Denver area, in Dallas and the North Richland Hills area. We just recently announced some investments in Dallas, such as Operation Tiny House, which builds tiny homes for homeless veterans. Through our investment with the organization, we’re going to build three tiny homes with trailers for homeless veterans in the Dallas area. We’ve also invested in the United Way’s Social Innovation Accelerator program. So that’s been exciting because there’s been a lot of different organizations that we’re able to help support in a different, indirect way. We have senior executives on the boards of Dallas Concilio, which focuses on increasing parental involvement in their children’s education and health, and Vogel Alcove, which provides programs, family support and health services to children 12 and younger who are homeless. We also partnered with Seeds to STEM, which provides science, math, technology and engineering programs to underserved communities in the DFW area. 

How did you get involved in the nonprofit arena? I always wanted to be able to do something good in my community and I had a need to do that through my work. We all bear a responsibility to contribute to the betterment of our world. Some of us are able to give more in certain parts of our lives. Some of us are able to give a little bit less. It’s all a balancing act. It’s just a part of who I am that I want to do well; I want to do good work. 

Do you have a specific cause that’s dear to your heart? Literacy. For me, its just so meaningful because if you don’t have the money to travel or if you can’t see different places, being able to read helps you to imagine different things and you can really start to learn about different places and different people and different cultures even if you can’t visit those places. And it seems like if kids can dream, then they can have hope for their future. 

What have you done in Lake Highlands? I was involved with the education committee for the AllinD10 Collective Impact group. We had a back-to-school event at Forest Lane Academy last year to get kids preregistered. They would go through all of the different spots, they would get preregistered and they would get a backpack full of items to start the school year. It served the school in that the kids started on day one and the parents and families got the benefit of having school supplies.

What are you most proud of? I’m proud that I have had the opportunity to get to know so many wonderful people in the community, to get to partner with so many wonderful people. I don’t know if it’s one thing that I’ve done that is just the ultimate thing. I think it’s an accumulation of little things that have hopefully made a difference in some way. But, I mean, I am proud of the opportunity to partner with some really wonderful people and organizations. And to try to collaborate to have impact. And personally, of course, I’m a parent, so that’s pretty important to me. I try to do my best there. 

How do you balance work and volunteerism? I really feel like I kind of pulled back recently to refocus on some very essential things and my new job. I’m getting to the point in my life, too, where I’m like, “OK, I can’t be scattershot everywhere” -— which I’ve done before. Because, at some point, no one’s happy. So I’m at the point where I’m thinking, “What are the few couple things that I can really focus on and provide meaning to and be OK with sometimes saying, ‘I can’t do this other thing’?” And that’s OK. Sometimes we just need to do that for ourselves. 

How did you learn to say ‘no’? I don’t know. I think I just had to. It became a necessity and so whether I really wanted to or not, it just became a necessity. And I just had a lot of change in my life and so there were times where I had to say, “Oh, I can’t do this,” and I had to move away. It’s pretty hard because you don’t want to say no, but then you realize all you do is cause problems when you say yes to things you can’t see all the way through. But we’re human. We learn and we live with that. We try to keep going. 

What advice would you give your younger self? I’ve learned that people in the nonprofit space, there’s not one route that people take. I think for somebody who is interested in this kind of work, they’ve just got to keep doing it. They’ve got to be involved with nonprofit organizations. They’ve got to know their community. They’ve got to give back when they can in whatever way that they can. As they get to know people, people will get to know them, people will think of them when an opportunity arises. It’s not all self-interest, but it’s just that that energy that you put out into the world, it will come back around to you at some point.