New CEO leaves Prevent Child Abuse

Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. – Donna Albertone has stepped down as CEO of Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina less five months after taking the job.

Albertone, who started work May 21 and resigned Oct. 10, says the job was not a “good fit” but declined to discuss details.

Bo Dempster, board chair for Prevent Child Abuse and a partner at law firm Poyner & Spruill, says the board hired Albertone for “the passion she has with respect to child abuse in all its forms,” but that “what she wanted to do was a great deal more than our resources and our focus would allow.

“The issue “was one of scope,” he says. “It wasn’t one of direction.”

Dempster says Michelle Hughes, who is vice president for programs and served as interim executive director before Albertone was hired, has been reappointed to the interim job while the board conducts a search for a new executive director.

Speaking on the condition they not be identified, people familiar with Prevent Child Abuse say Albertone resigned after finding she could not make organizational changes she thought she had been hired to make, a mismatch they attribute to a lack of awareness on the part of the group’s board about operations.

“The board was not as engaged as it needed to be,” says someone close to the organization.

Dempster says the board “has been as responsive and on top of this situation as it’s evolved over the last month as any board I’ve ever served on.

“The board, he says, consists of “very smart and very dedicated people who are very focused on the mission of the organization.”

People familiar with Prevent Child Abuse say that Albertone, in trying to make changes, also ran into resistance from the organization’s senior staff.

Karin Cox, the group’s director of communications and development, says Albertone had “some different ideas she wanted to bring to us.”

But Prevent Child Abuse “was already committed with other things we were supposed to be doing, and adding other things to our plate would not have been good timing,” she says.

Albertone, who joined Prevent Child Abuse after helping to develop initiatives the Cleveland Catholic Diocese used to train over 110,000 volunteers to protect minors from sexual abuse, reportedly wanted to diversify funding for the North Carolina group by expanding beyond state contracts and foundation grants to include more individual donors.

But most of the staff and resources at the organization, which has an annual budget of $1.3 million, are tied to the strategic direction in which it already was moving when Jennifer Tolle Whiteside resigned as CEO a year ago to become president of the North Carolina Community Foundation, people familiar with Prevent Child Abuse say.

For five years, they say, the organization has been steadily shifting its focus to play a greater statewide role in shaping public policy.The Duke Endowment in Charlotte has invested an estimated $200,000 to $250,000 a year, on average, to help Prevent Child Abuse make that shift.

A big factor in Albertone’s decision to resign reportedly was her assessment of the degree to which a big new collaborative partnership Prevent Child Abuse launched this year would fully address the problem of child abuse in the state.

With $2 million a year in funding from The Duke Endowment and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in Winston-Salem, the new initiative will team nurses with first-time mothers and their families in some of the state’s poorest counties.

Albertone concluded the new initiative, while designed to intervene effectively on behalf of families to prevent child abuse, initially would not help the organization’s local affiliates, people familiar with Prevent Child Abuse say.

Both to address the broader problem of child abuse and to appeal to individual donors, they say, Albertone wanted to offer other programs in addition to the new initiative, an “evidence-based” program developed by the national Nurse-Family Partnership.

But those suggestions reportedly met resistance from senior staff and called for making changes the organization could not afford and that could have hurt funding for the family-nurse program, in which Prevent Child Abuse is partnering with the North Carolina Partnership for Children, known as Smart Start.

Dempster, the board chair, says he is not involved in the organization’s day-to-day operations and so does not know if there was staff opposition to the changes Albertone wanted to make.”

Clearly, when this becomes an issue of scope, the thing they were all joined by was their desire to prevent child abuse and maltreatment in all its forms,” he says. “That is the mission of the organization, and that is something that everybody believes in.”

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