Fairfield Now - Fall 2009
Class of '74 profile
Susan B. Dunn: Raising the bottom line
By Carolyn Arnold
Susan B. Dunn '74, president and chief executive officer of United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut (UWCNCT), feels "incredibly blessed" to be able to draw on her Fairfield education to lead an institution that helps so many people.
As one of the first 200 women who came to Fairfield University in 1970, and one of the only female business school students, Dunn's college experience was unique - especially after coming from an all girls' high school! "I chose Fairfield because it had the major I was interested in (marketing) and because I could combine a liberal arts education with my interest in business," she explained.
The combination worked well for her career pursuits. After graduating she married Ned Dunn, a Fairfield alum from the class of '72, whom she had met on her first day as a new student. "He was volunteering as a 'greeter' for orientation and was the first person to officially welcome us to the campus," said Dunn.
After graduating she worked in insurance. It was a field she wasn't interested in pursuing, but she was grateful for the experience. "In hindsight, things worked out for the best," Dunn reflected. The position taught her how to analyze data and numbers, a skill that would prove invaluable.
Dunn left the work force in the early 80s to raise her family. Later she worked part-time and began volunteering as a community organizer. She began looking for a full-time job once her three children were older and because her husband was going back to school to become a teacher. In 1990 UWCNCT offered her a position in the communications office, which she happily accepted.
United Way, a nonprofit organization that meets human care needs, serves as a network of partner agencies, volunteers, and community leaders to improve the lives of those in the communities they serve. UWCNCT is the largest in Connecticut (each United Way organization is a separate and autonomous non-profit) and 29th largest of the more than 1,200 United Ways in the nation.
Dunn's workdays are never predictable. "When you work in a non-profit you wear a lot of different hats," she laughed. During her time at UWCNCT, she has helped exceed fundraising targets year after year, and served as the communications director, among many other duties. In 2006, when Dunn was senior vice president, the Board of Directors named her president and CEO following the sudden death of her friend and mentor George Bahamonde.
Since then she's been busy: In 2008 she was named as one of Greater Hartford's "50 Most Influential People" and the Hartford Business Journal awarded her the 2008 Nonprofit Executive of the Year award. Recently, United Way of America recognized the success of one of UWCNCT's newest programs, "Budget Coaching," which matches community volunteers with lower-income working individuals to help them gain a better understanding of personal finances.
The program is one of many that help move families towards sustainability and stability. UWCNCT also provides resources for services such as food pantries and shelters, but they focus on long-term solutions. "Ultimately we want to raise the bottom line for all community members," Dunn said.
Despite a tight economic period, Dunn is confident that people will "step up and help folks." She explained that today more people are in need of services, but with federal and state cuts, fewer resources are available. "We have to be creative in the future and look at new ways to work together including mergers and collaborations," she said. With Dunn and UWCNCT's determination to provide these services, along with the generosity of the people living in central Connecticut, the community will continue to grow and thrive.