Triangle Family Services teams with volunteer

Alice Lutz
Alice Lutz

Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — Last November, in her first week as CEO of Triangle Family Services, Alice Lutz met for a beer with John and Amy Brien, a couple who were among the biggest donors to the Raleigh nonprofit.

“Two-and-a-half hours later they said, ‘If I can ever help, please give a call,'” Lutz says.

Within weeks, she asked John Brien, who had retired in September after a 15-year career at Cisco Systems, to organize a committee to handle maintenance work at a building Triangle Family Services was purchasing.

And in January, after deciding to eliminate two vice president positions overseeing programs and finance instead of imposing 10 percent across-the-board spending cuts, she asked Brien to volunteer on a full-time basis as interim finance manager.

Triangle Family Services recently hired Kim McBride, former director of finance at the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh, as full-time finance manager, and Brien now is looking for another volunteer role at the agency.

Learning earlier this year about the arrangement with Brien, Barbara Goodmon, president of the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, offered a challenge grant that would match contributions from other donors up to a total of $5,000 to provide operating support for Triangle Family Services.

Inspired by that challenge, the agency this summer will launch a challenge campaign to raise $61,500 that would be used to match an equal amount in contributions, all of it to support operations.

Brien says his experience underscores the value nonprofits can create by engaging their supporters and understanding their needs and interests.

About 10 years ago, when he exercised his first set of stock options at Cisco and ended up with a large windfall, Brien says, he and his wife decided to “give back to the community.”

Getting some suggestions from the Cisco Foundation about agencies that matched their interests, he says, the couple made donations, “sight unseen,” to three groups, including Triangle Family Services.

While all three groups responded with thank-you notes, Triangle Family Services “seemed to do a better job at connecting with us,” he says. “We got more involved.”

The agency’s former CEO, George O’Neal, soon met with the couple.

And six months later, O’Neal invited Brien to join the agency’s board.

He rotated off the board after six years, and then joined its finance committee, stepping down only when he starting work as full-time volunteer interim finance manager.

The couple has continued to make substantial donations to the agency, Brien says.

And their two grown sons, on their own, joined the agency’s Young Professionals, a volunteer group O’Neal created to get young people involved and help them learn how the organization works.

With an annual budget of nearly $2.85 million, Triangle Family Services expects to report a surplus when its fiscal year ends June 30.

That compares to a deficit of roughly $100,000 the agency was projected when Lutz joined it Nov. 1.

The difference has been the elimination of the two vice president positions.

The agency, which has 27 full-time employees and roughly as many part-time employees, served 7,224 clients in its most recent fiscal year in the areas of mental health, family safety and financial security.

Lutz also has moved to remake the board of directors, recruiting five new board members, and preparing to add four more in September to replace members who will be rotating off the board.

She also plans to increase the size of the board to 21 from 19, and has reorganized it, creating new committees to oversee each of the agency’s three program areas.

“It aligns the passion of volunteers with key program areas,” she says.

And this fall, she plans to schedule a “strategic response” session to assess the needs of the agency’s stakeholders in each program area, and to map its direction for the next 18 months.

“The essence of what we’re doing is realigning human services with human passions,” Lutz says, “and volunteering is the obvious way to integrate all the program areas.”

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