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Nonprofit leadership changes multiply to start year

Safe and Sober and James River Basin Partnership hire new executive directors

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Several nonprofit organizations are opening the year with new leadership.

James River Basin Partnership, Safe and Sober Inc., Council of Churches of the Ozarks Inc. and Least of These Inc. all announced changes in the top posts within the past several weeks. Two of the organizations – James River Basin Partnership and Safe and Sober – have its next leaders on board, while Council of Churches and Least of These have interim directors in place. The Rev. Mark Struckhoff announced his retirement from the leadership role at Council of Churches, while Executive Director Bonnie Schooler resigned due to a family illness.

Jill Finney is the new executive director of Safe and Sober, as of Jan. 2. She took over for five-year leader Mackenzie Hernandez, who exited to work in corporate communications at Bass Pro Shops.

Brent Stock was promoted Nov. 21 to executive director at James River Basin Partnership, succeeding Tiffany Frey, who retired in June 2019. Retired Springfield Deputy City Manager Tim Smith was executive director on an interim basis.

Stock, who has worked at the organization since 2015 as project manager, said he wasn’t looking to take over the top position upon Frey’s retirement.

However, Smith spoke to him about considering the role and at the partnership’s Nov. 21 board meeting, Stock was promoted via unanimous vote.

“It worked out well and I feel like I’m the right fit for the job,” Stock said. “I look forward to it. It wasn’t a position I was going to turn down.”

Boosting individual and family memberships from its current roster of 115 is a priority for the organization in 2020, he said.

The goal is to nearly double that amount this year, with prices ranging from $30 to $275 annually.

The quartet of nonprofit organizational personnel moves comes on the heels of Good Samaritan Boys Ranch selecting Casey Wray, its vice president of operations, to succeed Kevin Killian as president and CEO of the Brighton-based nonprofit. Wray took the reins Jan. 1, with Killian transitioning to become the first executive director of The Good Samaritan Boys Ranch Foundation.

An additional nonprofit change is coming later this year, as Habitat for Humanity of Springfield, Missouri Inc. Executive Director Larry Peterson announced this month he will retire in April. Habitat Board of Directors President Jacqueline Post said a search committee process is being finalized, with plans to post the position soon.

Aging out
Although the number of nonprofit changes doesn’t usually come in such a short time period, Dan Prater, former director of Drury University’s Center for Nonprofit Leadership, said there’s a whole generation of older workers on the verge of aging out of the workforce. Retirements such as Struckhoff’s fall into that area, he said.

He also pointed to the occasional emotionally draining work done by nonprofits, which deal with issues such as poverty, domestic violence and addictions.

“It’s not unusual that there is turnover,” he said.

While he exited Drury at the end of 2018, Prater regularly still works with nonprofits at certified public accounting and advisory firm BKD LLP, where he serves as senior managing consultant.

Smaller organizations, such as Safe and Sober, can serve as a great training ground or entry point into the industry, he said. Those leaders often wear multiple hats, Prater said, from finances to public relations.

Additionally, the nonprofit likely will have a manageable budget and a small number of employees.

“It’s great for a director at an entry level to do all those things,” he said. 

Building experience
At Safe and Sober, which educates youth about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, the organization has an operational budget of $550,000 annually, according to Whitney Mann, program director.

During the 2018-19 academic year, the 15-year-old nonprofit reached 506 Missouri high schools and over 170,000 students.

New Executive Director Finney spent the past three years at United Way of the Ozarks, where she was vice president of communications. 

Stock also has a nonprofit background, with past employment including Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Ozarks Inc. and Discovery Center of Springfield Inc. He said his past nonprofit experiences set him up well for his new job, adding he also previously worked as an intern at Watershed Committee of the Ozarks Inc.

The partnership, founded in 1997, is responsible for leading water quality protection and advocacy efforts for the James River Basin, comprising 931,000 acres, 300 river miles and 560 springs, according to the organization’s website. It has a $240,000 annual budget, with a total of four employees. Interim director Smith is staying on as a strategic adviser, Stock said, to help in the transition. 

“It’s always been something I’ve been interested in,” Stock said of the outdoors. 

As Stock is beginning his new leadership role, Struckhoff has concluded his nine-year run at the 50-year-old Council of Churches, where he is credited with opening a women’s shelter; launching an early childhood program; expanding children’s and adult day care services; and working with member churches to expand the nonprofit’s reach. 

Rick George, the council’s chief operating officer, is serving as interim director amid an executive search conducted by the organization’s board.

Struckhoff will consult with the board on the transition at the nonprofit, which reported an operating budget of $6 million and 59 employees, according to Springfield Business Journal list research. 

At Ozark-based Least of These, Kristy Carter has been tabbed as interim executive director. She had served for nearly five years as development director for the food pantry, which currently serves roughly 2,300 people in Christian County each month, according to its website. Carter said the three-employee nonprofit has a 2020 operational budget of $750,000.

Prater said organizations should be very strategic about leadership changes, noting it’s best to avoid gaps in service. He said the Good Samaritan Boys Ranch internal promotion was a good example of an organization looking toward the future.

Officials there say transition conversations began about five years ago.

“Having a CEO transition plan is something a healthy organization will be doing, even if it’s five years out,” Prater said.

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