Alumna Caitlin Smith Combines Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy to Create Maximum Community Impact
“Ultimately, entrepreneurship is a calling,” explains Caitlin Smith, Indiana University South Bend alumna. Even before earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, Caitlin knew her career plans would involve two things: working for herself and impacting positive social change. As Founder and Managing Director of Blackbird Philanthropy Advisors, she is doing just that – creating the life she has always wanted for herself and fulfilling her purpose to help others on a larger scale.
Blackbird Philanthropy Advisors is based in South Bend, Ind., but works with families, corporations, and nonprofit organizations throughout the country to make the most of their philanthropic endeavors by ensuring “they’re stretching their dollars and making the biggest impact possible.” Although the path of entrepreneurship is filled with highs and lows, that is precisely why Caitlin finds it so rewarding.
“Building something from thin air and watching it blossom and become useful to other people in the world or seeing someone’s eyes light up when they use a tool you’ve created is truly an exciting feeling,” says Caitlin. “I’m extremely motivated by helping the clients I work with achieve success and reach their goals. It is why I wake up every morning.”
Making the decision to forge into entrepreneurship was a matter of following her gut instincts. As a teenager, when Caitlin was starting to consider her future career options, she felt confident that the risks of working for herself outweighed the stability of employment for someone else. But it was when she attended IU South Bend as an undergraduate that her distant dreams began to seem within reach.
“In college, when my life’s options expanded exponentially, I realized that I could chart my own course and define exactly what I wanted–not just in a career, but in life,” explains Caitlin. “Choosing IUSB gave me the opportunity to take courses with professors with PhDs who were teaching their direct expertise from their research.”
After graduating from IU South Bend with her bachelor’s in political science, Caitlin went to graduate school at the University of Chicago and studied social welfare policy. She credits her educational background for preparing her for a life of entrepreneurship. “Liberal Arts is the perfect degree for an entrepreneur,” says Caitlin. She developed skills she uses every day in her professional life: creativity, listening, and collecting data.
Caitlin gained valuable experience in the nonprofit sector in fundraising for the Family & Children’s Center and Boys & Girls Club. “I wanted mission-based work that would give me opportunities to affect change for a wide number of people, through influencing policy, improving stakeholder connections, and eventually through leadership,” explains Caitlin. This then led her to venture out and start Blackbird Advisors, to utilize her expertise to help others raise more funding for their nonprofit organizations and ensure donations make a quantifiable difference in the communities they serve.
To those who aspire to be entrepreneurs, Caitlin says her best advice is to focus on interpersonal skills. “Personal connections matter. Live an analog life as much as you can. To build something special, you need to be actually connecting with people, looking at them in the eye, shaking their hand, and listening to them. This can’t be replicated through a computer screen.”
Although Caitlin is a successful entrepreneur, she continues to find inspiration from others’ work ethic and determination. Reflecting on Women’s History Month, she says, “I’m inspired by all the women who do not sit idly by waiting for the right moment or the right fit, but who seize opportunity and leap into action to do what it takes to accomplish their goals: [from a] farmworker in a field who begins her day working at dawn to be able to feed and clothe her family…to someone like Oprah Winfrey who came from nothing but had big dreams and never took no for an answer. I’m inspired by women who turn barriers into opportunities and who find solutions in the toughest of circumstances.”