[Hpn] Virginia Beach, VA - Nonprofit groups tap business-savy leaders for success - The Virginian-Pilot - December 07, 2003

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Mon, 8 Dec 2003 10:16:33 -0500

Nonprofit groups tap business-savy leaders for success

Samaritan House/Safe Harbor: Measuring the outcome
By Tom Shean - The Virginian-Pilot - December 07, 2003

Virginia Beach, VA - Shortly after someone uses emergency
housing provided by the Samaritan House/Safe Harbor
organization, they receive a short, confidential
questionnaire asking about their experience at the shelter.

The Virginia Beach organization wants to know where they are
headed: To permanent housing? The home of a relative? Back
to the streets?

Much like a business that analyzes its production and sales,
this organization, which works with the homeless and victims
of domestic violence, puts responses into a database and
looks for trends in its delivery of service.

“We want to know how we’re doing,” said Carolyn McPherson,
executive director of Samaritan House/Safe Harbor since
January. “I wouldn’t say that we’ve made huge leaps. What we
have accomplished are improvements in staff morale and

The competition for donations and government funding is
fierce, and nonprofits are often under pressure from donors
to demonstrate what they’ve achieved with the resources
they’ve received.

McPherson, who has a master’s degree in biostatistics and
public health from the University of North Carolina, brought
this focus on data-gathering from Amerigroup Corp., where
she had been senior vice president for planning and

Her work at the Virginia Beach-based provider of managed
care required evaluating the health-care environments in
states where Amerigroup considered doing business.

“I had been in the corporate world and wanted to do
something different,” McPherson said of her decision to join
the Samaritan House. While serving as a volunteer last year
with women and children seeking help from the organization,
she realized that “we have the opportunity to directly
improve their lives.”

When the organization sought to fill the post of executive
director, McPherson was asked if she would take it, which
she did.

How much of a shock was it to move from the for-profit world
to a nonprofit?

“I don’t think it’s as large a leap as some people
suspect,’” she said. However, knowing that a person’s life
could be in jeopardy because of something that the
organization did or didn’t do was sobering. “That wasn’t
something I had expected,” McPherson said.

Meanwhile, the pressure to compensate for continued cutbacks
in government funding and business contributions hasn’t

In September, the Samaritan House suspended an after-school
tutorial program for children living in its emergency
shelters because of a loss of funds.

To bolster the organization’s $1.7 million annual budget,
McPherson has stepped up its pursuit of non-monetary
donations, including food, personal-care items and
health-care services.

“Fund raising is a constant, daily activity,” she said. “If
I go to my dentist, I’m thinking, 'What could he do to help?
We have clients who need free dental care.’”

So far, her dentist hasn’t volunteered to provide free
services, but he did contribute a case of rubber gloves that
the Samaritan House will be able to use, McPherson said.

Reach Tom Shean at 446-2379 or tom.shean@pilotonline.com

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