As a young girl growing up in poverty and abuse, Linda Smith faced insurmountable challenges that would have left most people broken and defeated. During her troubled youth she was pressed to find her voice and become a self-advocate, or lose her voice and become a victim. As a new mother the world told her yet again to “give up,” as her baby boy was born with Down syndrome and a disclaimer and expiration date. It was said, “Your son will be a burden. He won’t live long. Give him up to an institution and move on!”
In many ways, two people were born that day; a son who would grow in size and shape, but remain as vulnerable and dependent as the day he was born and, a mother, reborn to be a champion for all people with disabilities. Linda quickly found that the world wasn’t ready for her son Christopher and like her own childhood, the odds would be stacked against him (with a voice he would never find on his own.) On this day, Linda transformed from a self-advocate to a selfless champion of Christopher and folks like him. She has become an advocate for disability freedom and has published books about disabilities in honor of her son, who himself has become a disability advocate through his strength.
#LindasLife is more than her long list of accomplishments, more than the five hundred plus million dollars she raised to support people with disabilities, more than taking a small and floundering organization and transforming it into a juggernaut force of good. #LindasLife is about what YOU can do when you are armed with love and outraged by injustice. Her first fundraising event “The Concert of Love” is the theme for her life and a model of how to live with passion and determination; uniting people through a cause and inspiring all who will listen. It’s about joining together to fight on behalf of the most disenfranchised humans on the planet, to welcome and celebrate integration and diversity, to turn an idea into a reality and transform the misfortunes life delivers into the fuel that drives people forward to then say with relentless conviction… “NO! That’s not good enough. #SorryNotSorry rejection is not an option!”
Linda’s Fundraising Story
A fearless and tenacious fundraiser, author and motivational speaker, Linda Smith revolutionized the principles of non-profit fundraising, community relations and event management, while gaining an international reputation as an innovative leader, fundraising guru and most of all, a humanitarian.
Linda Smith: Opportunity Village Fundraising
After raising over a half a billion dollars for Opportunity Village, Nevada’s largest organization for people with disabilities, Linda embarked on a crusade to spread her talents and help others around the world.
Career highlights as a fundraiser are numerous and impressive, and include:
- Securing the largest single gift of $35 million for a local disability organization, followed up with a $40 million Estate gift.
- A five-year effort by Linda to involve superstar vocalist Celine Dion in a benefit concert and raising $1 million in a single day.
- Creation of a fully funded $5 million Endowment for social recreation and arts named for her son Christopher, through which people with profound disabilities have access to programs to enhance their physical and creative talents and boost their self-esteem.
- Linda launched a comprehensive Capital Campaign with a 5-year goal of $136 million by 2018 and raised $141 million in gifts and pledges by mid-2016.
- Creation of world respected “Signature” events including The Magical Forest, an outdoor holiday spectacular grossing more than $2.5 million annually. The Great Santa Run, featuring thousands of runners in Santa garb with Shania Twain as Grand Marshall and the initiation of the World Santa Challenge. Linda pioneered the annual Concerts of Love netting millions of dollars with no expense, she created Camelot a million dollar annual gala, Jeans to Jewels a down-home BBQ and The Meatball Festival a speed eating PR/ fundraising event. These are just a few of her creative ideas that will continue to sustain her beloved charity for years to come.
- Linda appealed to the new Las Vegas-based NHL team prior to their arrival in town securing $700k in annual revenue through a $1 per seat ticket sales.
- Major gift solicitations generating $8 million raised each year.
- Linda has the innate ability to engage major corporations, philanthropists and entertainers to support her cause. Celebrities who have become friends and supporters include Brad Garrett, David Copperfield, Wayne Newton, Celine Dion, Tom Jones, Shania Twain and Penn Jillette whose recent appearances on Celebrity Apprentice raised over $2 million for her charity.
Active in various professional associations, Linda was named “Fundraising Executive of the Year” by the National Society of Fundraising Executives. She received the prestigious “Woman of Achievement” Award from the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. The Nevada System of Higher education conferred the “Distinguished Nevadan” award for exceptional service to the State and Nation. Linda is a willing mentor to Nevada non-profits and to organizations across the globe who reach out to for her help. She recently received the “Best Buddies International Super Hero” Award and the “Key to the City of Las Vegas” in November of 2016. Linda is travelling across the globe in support of nonprofits in need. Her memoir UNWANTED and a series of “Linda’s Way” (to fundraising success) journals will be on bookshelves in late 2018.
Find your courage with Linda’s story. Be brave enough to love unconditionally and fight for those who need a champion. The best version of you will always be the one that steps up, and love will always guide you true.
What is your mission?
What or whom do you love?
And how far will you go to protect it or them?
Change a life. Change your life.