Women in Power: Marsha Smith

"Very early on in one of my first meetings I was asked to serve coffee, and this was 20 years ago, everybody in the room sort of took a collective gasp to see how I was going to do it," said Marsha Smith, Executive Director of Rotary Charities of Traverse City. "So I got up and I left the table and went over to where the coffee pot was and I came back and I said to the gentleman who requested it, 'Here's your coffee sir, would you like it in your cup or in your lap?', and of course everybody laughed and that was the last time I was ever asked to serve coffee at a meeting."

Marsha Smith is the Executive Director of Rotary Charities of Traverse City and she has been for the past 16 years.

"We have the wonderful opportunity and privilege of helping non-profits, units of government and schools make our community better," Smith said. "So we do that by giving away grants with two cycles a year and we also provide services and programs."

Smith said some people may not be aware of where all of the money for the grants originally came from.

"Our money comes from oil and gas money that was on property that we had purchased for the Boy Scouts, so we have an endowment of about $42 million," Smith said. "Over the course of our 35 years we've given away about $55 million, and each year we give away between $1.5 and $2 million."

Marsha Smith was also one of the original founders of the Women's Resource Center of Traverse City that opened in 1975.

"Now I kind of moved over to the other side of the desk for the second half of my career and can not just ask for money to support great causes, but can give money to help support great causes," Smith said.

Jo Bullis, the Executive Director of the Women's Resource Center, has known Smith for almost 25 years.

"Marsha is always very enthusiastic about what she does," Bullis said. "I think she really does have a dedication to the community that she lives in and works in and is always at the forefront of trying to find ways to make the community better for everybody in a whole variety of aspects."

Smith said she has always been one to jump at an opportunity when it has presented itself.

"One of the things that I've always done is if a door opens, I've tried to walk through it and it leads you in interesting places. So I never sat down when I graduated and said, 'I'm going to be a philanthropist, I'm going to run a foundation', but I'm so thrilled that I've had this opportunity for so many years to do that."

The Women's Resource Center offers a variety of programs for victims of domestic violence as well as offenders.

"We serve about 2,200 people a year at this point, but that would be individuals and families," Bullis said. "So the impact is larger than the 2,200, but those are the people who actually walk through the door and we open a file for, so to speak, but many times they have family members that are also impacted by the services."

Marsha Smith still supports the organization that she helped start years ago, but now from the other side of the desk.

"I think I learned as a philanthropist, because I sat on the other side of the desk for so long, what a good philanthropist and foundation officer acts like and what a not-so-good one looks like and acts like," Marsha laughs.

Bullis said Rotary Charities continues to provide funding for the Women's Resource Center today.

"They've provided funding, right now that we're working on an electronic document management system, and so they've been flexible in terms of being able to provide funding for things that maybe some of our more traditional funding sources are not so interested in doing."

Smith said her career has allowed her the opportunity to have a big impact on the community.

"I've always believed in thinking big," Smith said. "Thinking big and responding to need. The position that I'm in has afforded me the ability to think big and to think long range, which is terrific."

You can contact Marsha Smith by visiting the Rotary Charities website HERE.