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Sunday, 25 May 2014 22:00

Spaulding makes mark by keeping positive with finances

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Denise Spaulding, CFO, D.A. Blodgett — St. John's Denise Spaulding, CFO, D.A. Blodgett — St. John's PHOTO: KATY BATDORFF

Growing up on a dairy farm near Lake Odessa taught Denise Spaulding a strong work ethic at a young age.

She fed the cows, cared for calves, learned how to operate farm machinery and climb a silo, and generally did whatever it took to help out with the family business.

“That’s where I learned to work,” said Spaulding, the CFO at child welfare agency D.A. Blodgett — St. John’s in Grand Rapids who notes that her upbringing has provided her some unique skills, just in case they are ever needed at the office.

“I know how to deliver a calf, believe it or not, and I always tell people here I’m good with a shovel and pitchfork,” she jokes.

She hasn’t had to use those abilities as CFO, although the work ethic Spaulding learned from her parents surely still applies in her current position.

For her work at the agency, Spaulding was named MiBiz’s CFO of the Year in the nonprofit category.

“Denise transcends her CFO position by being a champion for our agency, its mission and clients through creative management, leadership and partnering,” said Jim Weaver, a board member at the agency and the vice president at Amway Corporate Enterprises.

D.A. Blodgett — St. John’s provides foster care, counseling, residential care, adoption services and the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program. The agency serves about 8,000 children annually.

Spaulding has been with D.A. Blodgett — St. John’s for 31years and says it’s the organization’s mission of assisting children and families that has kept her on the job for so long.

“I always view my role as someone working behind the scenes to advance the mission of the organization,” Spaulding said. “I hear the stories about how a kid moved on to success or comes back to say, ‘Hey, I really appreciate you assigning that mentor to me’ or ‘you really helped me.’ That’s what motivates me and that’s what I’m proud of.

“I’m working for a great organization that does good work.”

Spaulding started with D.A. Blodgett — St. John’s in 1983 as an office manager and bookkeeper. She previously worked as an accounting supervisor at Eastmark Corp. and as an accounting clerk at Electric Credit Corp. Prior to that, she served four years in the U.S. Army Security Agency in Japan, where she worked with classified information. The position gave her a high level of responsibility at a young age, she said.

Spaulding credits George Washburn, D.A. Blodgett’s director at the time, with giving her a chance and mentoring her in the early years of her career.

“He really was someone who would listen to you. Nothing was beneath him to help you succeed in your job,” Spaulding said. “He provided all the tools I needed to learn the ropes of how to manage the finances of a nonprofit organization.”

One key lesson she learned from Washburn: Focus on the positive. At staff meetings, Spaulding recalls, Washburn always wanted to first discuss the positive cases “because sometimes (with) the work we do here, you don’t always see the results right away.” She says that lesson serves to guide her today in her role as CFO.

Years later, she still considers creating and maintaining a positive culture as a critical part of her job.

“That’s what keeps us all going,” she said. “It’s important as a leader to try to stay positive and listen to people and help solve problems, and — above all — be helpful. See what you can do to try to help move the agenda forward in a helpful way. I never want to get into the complaint mode or the blame mode. We can all be part of the solution, and that’s the way I like to approach things.”

As CFO, Spaulding manages not only finances and endowments for D.A. Blodgett — St. John’s but the human resources department and day-to-day employee legal issues. She also managed the I.T. and facilities department until this year.

Spaulding counts among her career successes the role she played in managing the financial aspects of the 2010 merger of D.A. Blodgett for Children and St. John’s Home into a single child welfare agency.

“When you double in size so quickly, there are always challenges with that,” Spaulding said.

As the two agencies came together and integrated, she was involved in consistently communicating between the two staffs, boards and benefactors, and combining the policies and procedures of each organization.

D.A. Blodgett — St. John’s President and CEO Sharon Loughridge credits Spaulding with recently creating a four-year budget projection for 2014-17 that identified not just financial projections but capital, programming and training needs.

The process set a performance goal for the CFO and helped to create a multi-year plan for financial sustainability, Loughridge said.

“Such a plan is quite a difficult undertaking in the world of nonprofit financial management with the aggressively changing climate year to year with financial support, and the unpredictable nature of governmental contracts,” Loughridge wrote in nominating Spaulding for the award.

Loughridge noted that in most of the 13 years she’s been CEO, D.A. Blodgett — St. John’s auditors (Hungerford, and previously Plante Moran) have “not even found the need for a management letter with suggested ideas for improvements.”

“Year after year our auditor has … commented that conducting the (D.A. Blodgett — St. John’s ) audit is a pleasure because of the well-established financial practices Denise has put in place, and the fine training of her business office team,” Loughridge said.

Yet maintaining sound finances for the agency has not been easy, particularly during the recession and the state’s deep fiscal problems of a few years ago that resulted in no funding increases as the demands for services “were even greater,” Spaulding said.

Governmental sources account for up to 85 percent of D.A. Blodgett — St. John’s annual funding, she said.

As the agency came out of the recession in recent years, D.A. Blodgett — St. John’s operates leaner and more cost-efficiently, the product both of having to do more with less during the period and of staff learning to work more efficiently.

Leaders of the agency made sure they provided managers more detailed financial data so they were able to “have all the tools they need to effectively manage their individual programs” and adjust accordingly.

More recently, D.A. Blodgett — St. John’s was able to secure an increase in what the state pays the organization for foster and residential care by demonstrating the level of efficient service it provided and the strong outcomes it has achieved, Spaulding said.

Even with the economy doing better, staying on top of the agency’s finances and communicating present financial conditions is a top concern, she said.

“I never want to relay less-than-positive financial news to our staff or board. I don’t like that and I’ve had to do that on occasion,” Spaulding said. “So I work hard for that not to happen, but sometimes there are things outside of your control.”

Strong community support from around West Michigan helps the agency maintain fiscal health, both through financial and in-kind contributions, Spaulding said. Rather making cash contributions, several businesses will donate staff time to D.A. Blodgett — St. John’s, for example, to provide legal, financial or professional expertise.

Groups of employees from businesses that support the agency will do landscaping or paint facilities, she said. Another group spent a week working on the I.T. system.

“We rely heavily on the community and we wouldn’t be here today with them,” she said. “We don’t always have the budget to do all those things, so the community coming forward is key to our success and helping our kids.”


Denise Spaulding

  • Organization: D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s
  • Annual revenue: $16 million
  • Transformational moments: Spaulding credits the guidance of her parents, Larry and Marie Broadbeck, while growing up on the family farm near Lake Odessa; her service in the U.S. Army; and being hired in 1983 at D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s by then-Director George Washburn.
  • Mission critical: Spaulding says she must serve as a role model within the organization and maintain a positive atmosphere every day.
  • Academic degrees: MBA, Western Michigan University; BSBA, Aquinas College; Associate in business, Lansing Community College
  • Community involvement: Member of Zonta Club of Grand Rapids and Immanuel Lutheran Church
  • Personal: Married to Lawrence for 25 years; three adult stepchildren
  • Lead advisers: Hungerford Nichols CPAs + Advisors for accounting and both Fifth Third Bank and Mercantile Bank for banking
Read 5183 times Last modified on Tuesday, 10 June 2014 07:45

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