Triangle Family Services reengineering itself

Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — A consumer credit counselor at Triangle Family Services has developed “Maxed Out,” a self-help program akin to a “virtual” counselor that provides clients with information on managing their finances.

Now, Triangle Family Services is talking with the work/life unit at SAS Institute in Cary about licensing the program on a compact disc for use by company employees, a
move that could create a new revenue stream for the agency.

The talks with SAS are part of a larger strategy at Triangle Family Services to reinvent itself as an entrepreneurial nonprofit.

Providing family-safety, financial-security and mental-health programs to 5,000 people a year, the agency is one of the region’s largest health and human-services providers.

In September 2007, after the abrupt departure of long-time CEO George O’Neal, the agency’s board named entrepreneur Miles Wright, a former board chair, as interim CEO.

Already $100,000 in the hole in the first quarter of its fiscal year, the agency at the time was on track to post an annual deficit of $500,000.

Wright quickly cut the agency’s budget to $2.6 million from $3.2 million, resulting in a deficit of only $40,000 for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

For the past six months, for example, payroll and related expenses have totaled only 71 percent of the operating budget, compared to 82 percent in the six months before Wright joined the agency.

Wright also created a task force of fundraising and nonprofit experts to study the agency’s business model and recommend changes, including new partnerships, services and initiatives.

Those recommendations, to be reviewed this month at a special meeting of the board of Triangle Family Services, call for continuing the agency’s traditional fundraising efforts; looking for opportunities to partner with other organizations and expand to new geographic regions; and exploring new entrepreneurial activities.

In addition to the direct-mail appeals it makes twice a year, for example, the agency plans to expand its fundraising presence online, and to build its annual “Gingerbread Gala” event.

It also will focus more on generating major gifts from individuals by developing monthly activities geared to a “short list” of prospective givers.

And it has created a full-time position for a grantwriter, and eliminated the position of full-time development director, to focus more on seeking grant support.

The agency also will be looking for opportunities to develop strategic partnerships.

This year, for example, United Way of Franklin County offered Triangle Family Services a grant of $6,000 to open an office in Louisburg to provide services to domestic
offenders sentenced to enroll in a 26-week course.

The new office, to open in August, will generate $15,000 to $20,000 a year through fees that domestic offenders pay, and also will give the agency a “toehold” in the region, Wright says.

Once the domestic-offenders program is running, he says, the agency could begin offering other services, such as consumer-credit counseling.

Key to retooling Triangle Family Services as an entrepreneurial organization are task-force recommendations to create an advisory group and grant-supported fellowships to develop enterprising initiatives that would generate new revenue and support the fellowships after two years.

In addition to the “Maxed Out” CD, possible initiatives include developing fundraising events in partnership with service businesses, such as a 24-hour “cut-a-thon” at a local hair salon in 2007 that netted over $10,000, and developing a partnership with Wachovia, which in June named Triangle Family Services as its sole community financial partner in the Triangle.

“We’ve stabilized the ship,” says Wright, who says the agency this winter or early next spring probably will create a search committee to find a permanent CEO.

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