At one point, Amy Smitter dreamed of a career in far-flung American embassies across the globe. She prepared for that future by studying political science and studying Russian and Eastern European culture and history.
But today, Smitter finds satisfaction in making a difference much closer to home. She’s devoted her career to nonprofits in Michigan, working to see that more children get to have a higher education or certification and that many of those students put what they learn to work for the benefit of their communities. She’s also worked for nonprofits in housing and children’s health.
Now, Safe & Just Michigan is fortunate to bring Smitter on board as our new development director. Smitter takes over for outgoing Development Director Mary Lynn Stevens, who is retiring from the position.
“I have great empathy for people and need to help,” Smitter said. “I’ve seen the power of people to affect change, and I want to be part of that.”
Smitter grew up in Albion, but she decided early on that she wanted to see the world beyond her hometown. A tour through Europe convinced her to pursue a future in the diplomatic corps, which is why she obtained a degree in political science with an eye toward working in former Soviet-block countries. But something else happened along the way.
“While I was in college, I did some lobbying work with the Michigan College Coalition,” she said. The coalition was a group that advocated for the needs of college students across Michigan. She got her first taste for legislative victory in that role when the organization successfully lobbied for safety legislation for survivors of rape.
She also met the man who would become her husband while at Michigan State, making her rethink her plans to globetrot. That — along with her growing interest in working in nonprofits — convinced her to stay in Michigan. She took a job in her hometown of Albion working at a volunteer center to place students at Albion College into volunteer opportunities around the area.
Smitter realized she loved working with college students and wanted to become more involved with it. But to do that, she needed more education of her own. She obtained a master’s degree in student personnel administration from Ball State University in Indiana to move her further toward her goal.
In 1997, she had the opportunity to head the acting and performing arts division of Wheeling Jesuit College in West Virginia, a position she held for two years. But she and her husband wanted to come back to Michigan. “I just love this state,” she said. “This is where I want to be.”
Smitter went to work as the executive director for Michigan Campus Compact, a nonprofit that seeks to bring the learning gained inside colleges and universities into the wider community. This includes prison communities as well, Smitter said. For example, the Inside Out program, in which professors at the University of Michigan teach their students alongside people incarcerated inside the Macomb Correctional Facility, is the kind of program Michigan Campus Compact would have supported.
Other examples of programs around the state that have received support from Michigan Campus Compact include tax help programs that match accounting students with low-income families during the tax season, or landlord-tenant resolution services in which law students work to resolve problems between renters and landlords.
Smitter worked at Michigan Campus Compact between 1999 and 2009. Smitter found herself increasingly responsible for fundraising for the organization — a job she found she excelled at. From 2009 to 2014, she was also the director of institutional development for the national-level Campus Compact, the umbrella organization that Michigan Campus Compact is a part of.
During this time, she was also appointed to the Michigan College Access Network, a nonprofit that seeks to expand participation in post-secondary education and job training programs.
One of her talents is pulling together different people on a team with varying talents to work toward shared vision. That is a skill that is vital when it comes to fundraising and plotting out future plans. “I’m proud of having put together strategic plans and fundraising, and being able to pull together disparate pieces of an organization to work toward a common goal,” she said.
Seeking a change of pace, Smitter took up an opportunity to work as the chief operating officer for Habitat for Humanity of Michigan. While there, she established an endowment fund and played a key role in strategic planning.
She also worked for Camp Quality Michigan, a summer camp for children fighting cancer. In that role, she’s proud of her work to help the organization create a financial plan for its future.
But Smitter said she felt the tug to become involved in the realm of social justice, and she was particularly drawn to criminal justice reform. Smitter — who describes herself as a voracious reader — first encountered Safe & Just Michigan in 2016 after reading up on the challenges facing the criminal justice reform movement.
Retiring Development Director Mary Lynn Stevens is impressed with Smitter’s passion.
“In my experience, the very best fundraisers combine deep professional expertise and a heart that’s at one with their organization’s mission,” Stevens said. “Amy fits that to a tee. She’s a seasoned, successful fundraiser whose track record includes foundations, individuals, and corporations, and she has a longstanding passion and curiosity toward this work.”
Smitter says she is eager to put her experience and passion to work here at SJM.
“I hope to continue to build a stable base of funding for Safe & Just Michigan so that we will go on expanding our work,” Smitter said. “I still have a lot to learn on the subject matter, but already I see there is so much that needs to be done. I want to be a part of it. I’m proud to have spent my career helping people, and I’m glad I can continue to do that here.”
When not at work, Smitter has a wide range of hobbies and interests that compete for her time, including reading, traveling, quilting, painting and enjoying movies and theater. But most of all, she enjoys time with her husband and two daughters. The family has also hosted five exchange students at their home in Dimondale over the years and enjoys getting to know them and their cultures.