Archive for Sunday, August 12, 2001

Nonprofits turn to business for leadership

New director of area chapter for American Red Cross to use background in leadership role

August 12, 2001

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The new executive director of the Douglas County chapter of the American Red Cross hasn't spent her career organizing blood drives, teaching swim lessons or coordinating fund-raising campaigns.

Jane Blocher's management strength comes instead from teaching 600 employees in a Colorado call center to handle inquiries from customers of the country's top printer of personal checks politely, efficiently and effectively.

She's a businesswoman, not a social worker.

"My forte is really management and training," said Blocher, a former corporate trainer for Checks Unlimited, which prints millions of boxes of checks annually in Colorado Springs, Colo. "I think if you're consistent and offer a quality product, you'll have a sound customer base.

"It is consistency, fairness, efficiency and hiring the right people whether it is paid staff or volunteers that makes your organization go to the top."

The Lawrence-based chapter of the Red Cross, which officially welcomed Blocher to town last week, is among a growing number of nonprofits that are turning to the business world for leadership.

As federal and state governments trim social-service financing and turn over some services to the private sector, many tax-exempt organizations are being tapped to pick up the slack, said Herb Callison, executive director of the Kansas Non Profit Assn.

That means churches, foundations, museums and human-service agencies like the Red Cross are focusing more on local fund-raising and facing increased pressure from governments and grant-providing groups to deliver results.

"Today nonprofits are required to focus more on outcomes and be responsible or accountable for the financial management of their income and expenses," said Callison, whose 490-member organization represents the 13,000 nonprofits in Kansas. "As a result of that, it is very important that nonprofits begin to think like businesses."

Such an approach clearly is on the minds of the Douglas County chapter of Red Cross.

Bill Salome, co-chairman of the chapter's board of directors and former president of Kansas Public Service in Lawrence, is counting on Blocher to bring stability to an organization that hasn't had a permanent leader since last year.

Blocher doesn't need to take on the role of a big-business chairwoman or a corporate executive, Salome said. Think of someone less daunting.

"It's a local-business approach," he said. "Some of the direction comes out of Washington, D.C., or the regional offices, but for us to be successful we need to be raising more money here."

In Lawrence, Blocher now operates an agency with two other employees, about 100 volunteers and an annual budget of $215,000.

Last year the chapter helped about 60 victims of fires, while 4,500 people received instruction in CPR, first aid and swimming through Red Cross-sponsored classes.

Before her three years working at Checks Unlimited, Blocher spent nine years as a director and trainer for Kindercare in Overland Park. Before that came another nine years teaching kindergarten and first grade.

"I gave the board a 15-year commitment," Blocher said. "If it's a good match for me and for them, I'll be here. I'm not a job hopper. I find something I like and I stay with it."

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