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Meet Lerii F. Smith, CFRE of Project Partners in Fort Worth

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lerii F. Smith, CFRE.

Lerii, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I founded Project Partners, your partner for good, with Lia Zaccagnino, my friend and former co-worker at the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. At that time, I was Director of Local Business Development within the Economic Development Division and Lia was Director of Governmental Affairs under the Urban Development Division. Lia left the firm in 2001, but with plenty of client work and exceptional associates, I carried on.

When drafting the business plan for Project Partners in 1994, our research showed a probable market for contracted assistance in our fields of expertise (community relations, event management, fundraising, community program development, volunteer engagement, speaking/training/facilitating). We predicted that we could take on a project now and then, enjoy revenues from that work and enjoy some months of light or no work to parent young children and otherwise enjoy life.

The reality is that since our first official day in business, January 1, 1995, our services have been highly sought by nonprofit, corporate, and community leaders dedicated to advancing causes in our communities. Every month in twenty two+ years has been productive and profitable. The quality of our clients and the high profile, important work we are privileged to do with them, exceeds all original expectations. A $6000 combined investment in 1994 in office equipment, a logo, letterhead, and business cards has yielded millions in consulting/project management revenue. We base our fees on professional hours devoted, so this represents a tremendous volume of work and dedication to the more than fifty clients we have served over these 22+ years (the majority we serve for multiple projects and/or multiple years).

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The work has not always been easy. Managing our own community profile and scheduling of project-based assignments (some that last two months and others that last for years) has sometimes been a challenge. The work we do so well has to be very focused on seeing the big picture while attending to every detail, usually among collaborative parties, so we keep our nose to the grindstone. Plus, one of our policies has been that we work almost like a “silent partner” to our clients, assuring their success, making sure kudos and the spotlight are given to them. With that said, I sometimes liken us to the shoemaker’s kids with no shoes, but I’d take the hundreds of deep relationships we have across the region and the results we produce for our community over front-page press coverage any day. Plus, too much work to manage is a far greater problem to have than too little. We are very blessed.

Project Partners – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Project Partners advances community causes brought to us by nonprofit, corporate, and community leaders — causes that need a voice and a hands-on project management team.

Since 1995, we have provided community relations, event management, program development, fundraising counsel, and volunteer engagement services for almost every cause you can think of. Education. Workforce development. Economic and community development. Crime prevention. Health. Youth development. Quality childcare. Environmental issues. Tourism. And so much more.

They are causes close to home, right here in North Texas, because here is where we choose to be — not just guiding our clients toward their mission and financial goals. But educating them, too.

Our experience, staying power and dedication to important community causes have made us a partner for good for scores of public, private and nonprofit organizations.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
As mentioned before, I started this company, in part, to balance work and family life. My husband, Steve, and I have been married for 32 years, and our children are now awesome young adults and I’m grateful for that.

Along those same lines, I have been extremely proud of the personable, professional, experienced associate team that we’ve attracted through the years. Our business model is unique in that associates are assigned projects very suited to them and are given many resources to be successful, but they are not tethered to a particular schedule or to many of the trappings of other service-based employers. This attracts skilled, entrepreneurial professionals that are highly motivated and focused on results. Working for Project Partners for 10 years or more is not uncommon. Our clients and I get to work with the “best of the best” in this field every day.

Contact Info:

Community Foundation North Texas hosts a Day of Giving pep rally at Sundance Square in Fort Worth, Texas on September 18, 2014. (Photo by/Sharon Ellman)

Safe City Art & Essay Contest 2007

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