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Red Cross focuses on regional strategy

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Bill Brent

Bill Brent

Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The Greensboro chapter of the American Red Cross and the seven community chapters it serves have a new regional executive director who plans to step up collaboration and fundraising within the region.

“The number one focus for us is continuing to make sure we have the financial resources to make sure we meet the need for services in the chapter and region,” says William “Bill” Brent, the new regional director.

Brent, former CEO of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chapter, joined the Greensboro chapter in November, succeeding George S. “Sandy” Koontz, who retired in October after leading the chapter for 20 years.

Brent joins the chapter in the face of efforts by the America Red Cross to spur regional cooperation among chapters throughout the United States.

Formed in 1917, the Greensboro chapter operates with an annual budget of nearly $2 million and 19 full-time and part-time employees.

While it mainly serves Guilford County, the chapter also operates service-delivery sites in Montgomery and Randolph counties.

It supports a blood-donation center that serves roughly 21,000 donors a year; provides disaster relief, last year responding to 115 family disasters; and offers health and safety programs, serving 23,000 people last year.

And in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2009, the chapter provided over 54,800 services to members of the armed forces and their families, including emergency communications, pre-deployment briefings or travel assistance for military personnel to return home to meet family needs.

And under a regional strategy the Red Cross instituted about 18 months ago that organized its chapters in North Carolina into five regions, the Greensboro chapter serves as the regional office for chapters serving 18 counties from Burlington west to Boone.

Brent, who joined the Mississippi Gulf Coast chapter 10 months after Hurricane Katrina made landfall in the region, says the Red Cross provided over one million meals in one day and worked with partner agencies to house hundreds of thousands of individuals.

But the organization also learned from Katrina that “we don’t have the capacity to meet all of the needs of a community that suffers a catastrophic event.”

Responding to major disasters requires partnering with other agencies, says Brent, a former executive director of the AIDS Service Agency of Wake County who served as executive director of the Alliance of AIDS Services Carolina, the regional organization created through the merger of the Wake agency and its counterparts in Durham and Orange counties.

While partnering “was not something we did as well as we should have” after Katrina, Brent says, the Red Cross now has “invested a lot more resources in equipment, in human resources, making sure we were better positioned to respond to future events of that nature.”

Collaboration is key to the Red Cross’ Greensboro region, he says.

Chapters in the region share staff, resources and staff, for example, and team up on training, with instructors from the Greensboro chapter providing training throughout the region.

Program managers from the chapters work together and communicate with one another on a regular basis, and the chapters partner on back-office services with one another and statewide.

The Greensboro chapter handles planning for the disaster-action plans for each chapter in the region, for example, while the Raleigh regional chapter handles human resources and soon will handle accounting for all chapters in the state.

And public-affairs professionals in the Greensboro and Winston-Salem chapters support media affairs for all chapters in the region.

The Greensboro chapter, which has cut costs by five percent to seven percent through furloughs, reduced hours and other measures, counts on United Way of Greater Greensboro for 11 percent to 12 percent of its budget and receives no government support.

The chapter, which also counts on direct-mail appeals throughout the year, plans to take a more aggressive approach to fundraising.

That strategy includes a series of bimonthly tours of its facility for potential donors and volunteers, and an annual breakfast, in March.

Ten to 20 individuals participate in a bimonthly tour, and roughly 80 percent of them typically either make a commitment that day to become active volunteers or write a check for a donation, Brent says.

With demand for services rising, he says, the chapter needs to “more actively and more aggressively go out and seek those donations than we have in the past.”

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