• 110 Years of NFSB: Henning Leads Difficult Changes that Produced a Positive Impact

    As Past Master of the Nutley Masonic Lodge, Neil Henning had experience leading a local organization that was active in the community. Greg Tolve had become President of the Nutley Family Service Bureau (NFSB) Board of Trustees in 2004 and was looking to bring new leadership to the board. He asked Neil to join.

    Although he didn’t know much about NFSB at the time, he joined the board and gathered as much information as possible to understand the state of the organization. The outlook was bleak.
    “Looking at the financials, it was obvious that the organization would not survive if it kept going the way it was going,” Neil said. “We had recently lost funding from the United Way and were just burning money. Greg did a great job identifying areas where improvement was needed, and when I was elected president in 2008, I made it a top priority to get to the bottom of why things were happening and make changes.”

    To shift the direction of the organization in terms of both day-to-day operations and overall strategic approach, the board made the difficult decision to make significant staff changes. They also implemented term limits to not only bring fresh perspectives and energy, but to allow long-serving board members to step down.

    “Carol LoCurcio, Jim McGuire, and the entire board pushed for change with me so we could get a fresh start,” Neil said. “I remember Ruth Bedford saying, ‘The numbers don’t lie. We have to do something.’ It was not a fun time, but it had to be done.”

    After additional personnel changes, a long search brought Felicia Gardner, LCSW to NFSB as Executive Director and the organization started to make significant strides. NFSB was awarded a grant to fund computers and software for the mental health clinicians, many of whom were still using handwritten notes. In addition to improving operational efficiency in the mental health program, the new software provided visibility into client appointments and fees.

    “Many clients had not been billed for sessions at all, even those who had the ability to pay,” Neil said. “There were a lot of no-shows as a result. We set up a system to process insurance claims and take copays, and we billed clients regularly. The new software helped the clinicians manage their case loads and be more productive.”

    Changes were made to NFSB fundraisers to make them accessible to more people. For example, a formal gala was replaced with a cocktail party. A casual environment and inexpensive tickets made the event less intimidating and resulted in significantly higher ticket sales and attendance.

    Changes to fundraising events and improved billing for mental health services contributed to the funding of a new addition to NFSB facilities. With support from LoCurcio ShopRite of Nutley, NFSB took over the Food Pantry, which had been run by the American Red Cross. This not only helped NFSB assist more people with basic necessities, but it also created another point of entry for those who might benefit from other NFSB programs.

    After serving his term as president, Neil was happy to step back and let others take the baton. Seeing the continued progress of the organization during the past 10 years has been extremely gratifying.

    “When you help one person with food or mental health services, the ripple effect is huge,” Neil said. “I always told the clinicians, staff, and volunteers that the impact they had in the moment spread to each client’s family, and possibly their friends and co-workers. Through no fault of their own, a lot of people just fall on hard times. That’s what makes NFSB special, being able to lift people up when they need it. Serving as president is probably the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”

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