Four-legged Fundraiser


There is a lot we can learn from animals,” said Amanda Ryan-Smith, who says that they have taught her patience and to focus on the here and now. She works to transform the lives of animals and the people who love them as the Director of Development for the Austin Humane Society.

Ryan-Smith lights up when she talks about her pets. Spencer, a five-year-old cocker spaniel, is the dog of the house. He experiences “total unbridled joy” from a walk or a car ride or a piece of cantaloupe.

Teah, who she describes as “wise and in tune”, is a 15-year-old cat she rescued from a dumpster. “Anytime i have a problem, Teah will come over and put her paw on my lap,” she said. Sophie is a calico cat she adopted from the humane society after she stuck her paw out of her cage to get her attention. Howie is the third cat, a foster kitten she decided to keep who seems to think of herself as part dog. She has her own crate to sleep in on top of Spencer and has figured out how to escape from her carrier and roll down the car window so that she can stick her head out.

Ryan-Smith has always had a soft spot in her heart for animals. She grew up on a farm in southwest Oklahoma where she had more animals than kids to play with. There were only six children in her grade, but there were lots of animals on her parent’s wheat and cotton farm.

1-10She is not only an animal lover, but a humanitarian as well. From her first volunteer experience performing home improvement projects for the elderly through her church, Ryan-Smith knew she wanted to help people in some way.

She attended Baylor University, receiving her degree in social work, and then made her way down to Austin to attend the University of Texas. While working towards her master’s in social work, Ryan-Smith fell into fund-raising. An internship working on grants at the Family crisis center in Bastrop made her realize that she loves connecting with donors who are giving with their hearts.

Upon graduation, Ryan-Smith left to go to Boston, where she served as the director of development at an organization that helps abused women and children. Although she missed Austin, her time away taught her some valuable lessons. “I learned a lot about major donors because there were lots of high wealth donors in the area,” she said.

After three years, Ryan-Smith moved back to Austin to do fund-raising for the united Way. Her last year there was spent working on grants, where she managed to secure a $500,000 award to help with hurricane Katrina evacuees.

While Ryan-Smith was working at the united Way, she adopted spencer from the Austin humane society, which turned out to be a wonderful experience for her. Ready for a change, she applied for a job there.

Shortly after she started, Hurricane Ike hit Galveston and the humane society offered to shelter the pets of hurricane evacuees. They had a hard time getting people back together with their pets since the buses taking people back to Galveston did not allow animals. To reunite evacuees with their pets, the humane society rented a van that would drive both people and their pets back to their homes in Galveston.

Since then, Ryan-Smith has managed to grow fund-raising for the humane society in a challenging economy. So far, her favorite part about working has been a campaign she started there that focused on connecting donors directly to the animals they are saving. It started with Mr. Darcy, a four-month-old puppy with congenital heart failure. Donors raised more than $3,000 for a lifesaving surgery that helped mend the lab mix’s broken heart.

Ryan-Smith not only works for the humane society, but she also does “the best volunteer job in the world” for them. In addition to the four permanent furry residents in the Ryan-Smith household, she and her wife Carolyn take care of an ever-changing lineup of foster animals in their north Austin home until they can find them good homes. “I couldn’t imagine life any other way,” she said.

Ryan-Smith recently passed the exam to become a certified Fundraising executive, a professional goal for her, which further shows her commitment to fundraising. “I feel blessed to be able to spend my time connecting donors directly to animals in need, resulting in happy endings for all involved,” said Ryan-Smith.