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Angie Wieck, Published April 03 2014

Making a mark: Nonprofit CEO shares business philosophy

Name: Gary Wolsky

Position: President and CEO, The Village Family Service Center

Fast fact: When Wolsky joined The Village in 1983, the staff saw approximately 3,000 people a year. That number has grown to 87,000 today.

His story: Wolsky recently celebrated his 30th year with the organization, but his lengthy tenure does not mean he has become complacent.

“I tell the board every year, it doesn’t matter how long I’ve been here, if I’m not bringing something of value that is greater next year than it is this year and was last year, then you really don’t have any reason to keep me around.

“I think that from a business standpoint, either you’re growing or you’re dying, so I think you’ve got to stay reasonably forward thinking,” said Wolsky.

As an organization, we must continue to ask how we might be able to do things better or what needs to be done that we are not doing now, he said.

Business philosophy: Wolsky’s first job at The Village was to “conduct the service orchestra.”

At the time, the organization’s four divisions (volunteer programs, counseling, credit counseling and adoption services) were operating independently and not communicating with one another. His job was to weave the system together.

After just one year, he was promoted to president and CEO. As leader, Wolsky said he has managed the not-for-profit as he would a business.

Today, 70 percent of the services The Village provides have a source of payment. One example is the partnership between their credit counseling services and local banks.

“We have to go sell our services, and there has to be a market for those services,” Wolsky said. “We have to produce value when we provide a service in order to justify payment.”

The Village must fundraise the remaining 30 percent of its budget.

Wolsky said he has seen many not-for-profits end up with a mentality that they are entitled to something. They become almost quasi-governmental agencies.

“A lot of times when my peers would be off to Washington to try to lobby for more tax money, I’d be talking to donors here who want to help their neighbors. … I think that’s a healthier business approach,” he said.

“We don’t need the government telling us what to do. We don’t like the government telling us what to do. We can design our own programs and, assuming we can fund them, it’s a whole better business plan than waiting for instructions from Washington,” Wolsky said.

Vision for the future: Wolsky said the recent recession and area flooding took a financial toll on The Village.

“Our programs are in great shape. We have the most incredible staff. I don’t lose any sleep about the programs, but the financial piece of what we’re doing is always scary,” Wolsky said.

He said in order to continue to remain independent from Washington, the organization needs to become more financially stable.

“My vision, from a business standpoint, is to take our foundation to heights we’ve never dreamt about,” Wolsky said.

To submit an idea for “Making a Mark,” email businessnews@forumcomm.com.