JANUARY 16, 2022
If it’s true that happiness doesn’t come from what we get but rather from what we give, then Susan Byrom might just be the happiest person at First West Credit Union.
In 2021, the Executive Director of Community Investment and the First West Foundation, led a team that was able to disseminate more than $3 million to 1,000 different recipients to support our members and communities during some of the most challenging environmental, health and social crises in recent memory.
Employees at our credit union and beyond often hear of the amazing work Susan and her team do on behalf of First West. Susan’s personal journey, however, is lesser known but no less inspiring.
Seek out opportunities
While Susan was raised with a giving-back mindset, she hadn’t considered it as a career option. Before finding her way to First West, Susan had taken on a variety of administrative roles, including working at a pharmaceutical company where she had her first professional opportunity to participate in a fundraiser for the Langley Memorial Hospital Foundation (helping the employees at her company agree to stuff 11,000 direct mail pieces). This was when she realized bringing people together to do good things could be a career.
“I wanted to take an organization who had people and resources and introduce them to doing good,” she says. “It was just about bringing everyone together.”
After joining Envision Financial in May of 2005, she looked for more ways to give back while continuing to pursue her education. She obtained her undergrad degree at Simon Fraser University in 2008 and carried on earning her Master of Business Administration at Trinity Western University in 2010.
The experience she gained by taking every opportunity to volunteer led her to be invited to join the Langley School District Foundation board, a position she held for 14 years. Then in 2006, Susan was the successful candidate for a Corporate Citizenship Officer position and progressively took on more responsibility and greater scope—which eventually led to her current role, one she’s held since 2017.
“People need to know that you’re interested in doing a job or project,” she says. “And while, you might not be ready now, find out what you have to do now to be ready for your next opportunity.” She adds that volunteering and being prepared to jump in where needed is a valuable way to learn. “First West gives us many opportunities to do that, you just have to put your hand up.”
Building and maintaining connections
Unfortunately, the credit union or First West Foundation is often unable to fund a non-profit or charitable partner. Rather than simply saying no and moving on, Susan believes in maintaining a connection. Creating those relationships has not only created opportunities for her growth but has also helped the credit union create change in the communities we serve.
“While we can’t fund all requesters, if we can take the time to visit people, talk with people and be present, then we’ll be the first people they think to call when they have a need,” she says. “And the more we can wrap our arms around an organization, the more we can help them to deliver on their mission.”
Susan is working to formalize this mindset with the First West Foundation board by shifting the power imbalance from funders to recipients to provide funds with fewer or no restrictions on how the recipient uses them, to build a “trust-based philanthropy” model.
The continuous evolution and growth of the foundation and the credit union as a leader in social sector is due in large part to Susan’s outlook that it’s important to always dream big. “If you fail to dream and put yourself out there, then you fail to bring forward opportunities. You have to give things air and a voice so you can see what the possibilities are,” she says. “I can tell you honestly, not every idea I have is a good idea!”
For Susan, big dreams can result in exciting career opportunities, making long term valuable partnerships and creating waves of change in the community through strategic initiatives or by simply taking consistent small actions that help to serve those who matter to you most.
If you have big dreams and a desire to build meaningful connections, as Susan proves, First West is as good a place as any to accomplish these admirable goals!