Habitat retools, Part 1

By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — In the spring of 2005, after its most productive year ever, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Greensboro was gearing up for its 20th anniversary in 2007 with tentative plans to boost its annual production of housing and build 150 houses over three to five years at a cost of $16 million.

But those plans were sidetracked last November when Habitat discovered an alleged theft and embezzlement, a loss the organization says totaled at least $520,000.

Now, after spending the last year overhauling its financial systems and controls, and addressing its cash crisis, including spending cuts and delays to offset the draining of its reserves, Habitat has reorganized its staff and aims to get back on track with its expansion plans.

“We are ready to put this behind us and move into the future and get back to those visions of growth,” says Gerard Davidson, Habitat’s board chair and an attorney at Smith Moore.

While Habitat has continued to raise funds in the quiet phase of a capital campaign launched two years ago to raise half the funds needed to finance its expansion, it has postponed the campaign’s public kickoff that was scheduled for earlier this year.

So far, the campaign’s quiet phase has helped boost annual fundraising to $1.5 million last year from $600,000 three years earlier.

Habitat also is reassessing details of its expansion plans in the face of changes in the housing market and adjustments it has made in its operations to offset the loss of the stolen funds.

“We tightened our belts and that permitted us to restore our financial reserves, so today we now are back to the position we were in when this came to light,” Davidson says.

He says Habitat has not replaced the stolen funds and has used funds to recover from the loss that it had wanted to spend for land purchases, construction and strengthening its organization.

Its board and staff now are developing new strategies for fundraising, partnerships and financing to increase house production through special projects like townhomes in addition to single-family houses, expand the organization’s capacity to support greater production, acquire land for building, and take on other special projects.

Overseeing Habitat’s growth plans will be a new senior-management team.

Winston McGregor, who has served as Habitat’s director of development since September 2002, has been named executive director.

She succeeds Bob Kelley, who helped found the Habitat affiliate in 1987 and has served as executive director since 1998.

Kelley has been named vice president and director of special projects, and will oversee the growth initiatives and development of partnerships and financing strategies.

Succeeding McGregor as director of development is Pat Arnett, a former director of development for Greensboro Urban Ministry who joined Habitat on a contract basis earlier this year to cultivate major donors.

Davidson says the staff changes are designed to divvy up responsibilities in the face of growth and better align staff expertise with the needs of the organization.

“We have grown considerably in the last five or six years, and we needed to expand and match people’s talents and jobs with their roles in the organization,” he says.

Next: Habitat tightens belt, aims for growth.

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