August 2019: Preparing for the Next Gen of Nonprofit CEOs

By | News, Nonprofit, Strategy

Contributor: Katherine Whitney, Warren Whitney Co-Founder and Director

Preparing for the Next Gen of Nonprofit CEOs

As organizations change, we will see many opportunities for new nonprofit CEOs. If you are part of the leadership of a nonprofit, there are steps you should take. Alternatively, if you are outside of the field and want your career path to lead to becoming a nonprofit CEO / Executive Director, you also should be preparing.

Nonprofit CEO Succession Planning

Every nonprofit should have a succession plan and many do. But when it comes time to select a new CEO, you may find there are some important steps left to complete.

  1. Form a search committee. It is a board’s responsibility to select the next CEO, but who should be on the search committee? We recommend at least one person who knows the organization well and at least one person who is newer to the Board and who has several years left in his/her term. A best practice is to include the expected next board chair, perhaps as the committee chair.
  2. Be clear about the search committee’s role. Begin with what’s needed for the role and attributes. The committee and the board should be clear about whether the search committee’s job is to present one candidate to the board for approval or to present the top two or three final candidates for the board to debate the final selection. We recommend the first approach.
  3. Assess the position and direction of the organization to determine the skills and experience needed in the next CEO. This analysis is vital to help candidates self-assess whether this is the right opportunity for them, and it will serve as a guide for the search committee to evaluate final candidates. Avoid letting the pendulum swing to the far side of the skills and attributes of the current CEO. It is understandable to want attributes that the current CEO lacks, but a big swing is often too much of a shift for staff and boards to handle.
  4. Check the market to determine competitive compensation. Long-term CEOs may have allowed the board to slip out of the competitive range in compensation. It’s best to negotiate compensation with a good understanding of what’s reasonable and what the organization is able to pay.

These steps will help you prepare to move forward on your own or with the help of a search consultant.

Nonprofit Professional Career Development

Do you want to be a nonprofit CEO? That question isn’t just a lead into an article on “how to become…” it’s the first question you should ask yourself after you assume that, to have a career successful for you, that should be your goal. There are many important roles in nonprofits, and if becoming a nonprofit CEO is your dream, make sure you’re ready to handle responsibilities such as:

  • Raising money. With very few exceptions, a nonprofit CEO’s top responsibility is to raise money for the organization. The CEO is the outward face, telling the story to increase awareness, building relationships, and ultimately making the “ask.” If that doesn’t sound like fun, you should rethink the path.
  • Analyzing your financial position. While you may be able to get some help here from your Finance Director/CFO or from board members, in the end, you have to understand the financial drivers and the impact operating decisions have on your financial position.
  • Managing people. Most rewarding, you have the opportunity to help others develop in their careers and to carry out your worthwhile mission. Along the way, however, you’ll have to address performance problems and possibly terminate employees for any of a number of reasons.

If you can check the “yes, I want to do that” box on those areas, read on for some suggestions.

  1. Round out your experience. If you are in the program or operations side of your organization, find a way to get involved in Development/Fundraising. Learn more about your organization’s development goals, and find ways to support them. Help with grant writing and grant management; participate in calls; take seminars to learn how fundraising works. If you are on the development side, look for ways to get experience in managing people. Many smaller nonprofits have only one or two development professionals; as a CEO, it’s likely that you’ll manage a team. Build some type of proof that you’ll be able to lead a team.
  2. Learn how to analyze financial positions. Take some classes. Become responsible for creating and managing part of your organization’s budget. Review your organization’s financial statements to make sure you understand them.
  3. Build your network. There’s often so much to do between job responsibilities and family that networking gets pushed aside. When you’re known in the community, you’ll find that interesting opportunities to advance your career come your way more often.
  4. Make sure your personal financial house is in order. Your credit history matters. If you make the list of finalists for a CEO position, it’s likely that you’ll have a background and credit checks run. If you can’t manage your personal finances, the hiring committee should wonder whether you can manage the organization’s.

Finally, when you find yourself as a candidate for a CEO job, make sure you do your homework and ask thoughtful questions. It will impress the search committee, and it may keep you from jumping at an opportunity that really is too good to be true. Every job opening and job search should be a two-way process. As a candidate, you are “selling” your capabilities, and you are also committing the next stage in your career to the new organization, so be sure you are investing wisely.

To learn more about board development, please contact Katherine Whitney at 804.282.9566 or .

November 2018 Newsletter: Make Your Board Great!

By | Board Development, Nonprofit

We understand the concept of “Level 5 Leaders” thanks to Jim Collins’ book Good To Great, one of the business classics.  Whether you are a nonprofit leader or a member of a Board, you may have wondered how to develop a “Level 5 Board”  – a group of mission-driven people, who put the success of the organization above egos, and who work to ensure the organization has the necessary resources to be strong.

Think about three guiding steps:

  1. Get the right people on the Board; a very “Jim Collins” first step.
  2. Give them the information they need.
  3. Make good use of the time they commit.

The Board Profile: Getting “the right people”

“The right people” are those who have the skills and experience the Board needs and who are engaged in the mission of the organization.  You might use your committee structure as a framework to evaluate:

  • What skills and experience do you need on each committee?
  • Which Board members will be rolling off in the next two to three years?
  • Will your strategic direction require new skills?

Many governance or nominating committees only work on new Board member cultivation during the (roughly) two months before they nominate new Board members.  Board cultivation should be a year-round effort that looks at a two to three year window of Board needs.  Your best Board members are already busy.  You may need to wait a few years for them to become available – or you may need to snag them sooner before they get engaged with a different organization.

Systems can help simplify.  If you bring in new Board members each year:

  • Bring them on at the same time in classes instead of spreading new members throughout the year.
  • Try to make classes roughly the same size so you won’t have a large number of Board members rotating off at the same time.
  • Balance your classes. For example, try to include one new Board member who is good at fundraising in each class along with a few others who fill other needs.

Finally, it’s also good to assemble a Board that brings diverse thinking and enjoys being together.

Board Information

This is a vital area that depends on your organization.  Here are the basics:

  • Board orientation – Help Board members understand your organization and reinforce expectations (which should have been discussed before they committed to joining the Board). It’s also a good opportunity for some social interaction to help Board members get to know each other.
  • Industry information – Help Board members understand industry norms, best practices, and innovation. Sharing articles between each board meeting is a good way to build this base of knowledge.
  • Your strategic plan – Remind Board members of where you want to go and the strategic imperatives required to get there. Newer Board members often need extra reinforcement of the strategic plan if they were not a part of creating it.
  • Your performance dashboard – Let Board members know what’s working well – or not so well. Don’t sugarcoat results; the Board needs the real picture.  Committees should dig into detailed information, but the whole Board should have the overall snapshot of the organization.

Use Time Wisely

Most Board members are happy to commit time to an organization they care about – as long as their time isn’t wasted.  Our step one referenced here pointed out that often the best board members are busy people; busy people hate to waste time.

  • Board meetings – Use Board meeting time to do things that can’t be done alone or in committees: Discuss successes, problems, new ideas, strategies, and other relevant topics.  End with appropriate takeaways when action is required.    Boards need to take certain actions.  Get those things done efficiently.  Don’t “report out” anything that can be read beforehand.
  • Committee meetings – These should be as well organized as Board meetings, with an agenda and material sent ahead of time. Each committee should have a charter and annual goals that tie to the strategic plan.  As appropriate, committees should prepare recommendations for the full Board’s consideration.
  • Social time – Using time wisely doesn’t mean “all work.” Smaller coffees and lunches or full Board social gatherings can help build relationships that make Board service extra rewarding.

Managing Board processes and relationships requires a significant time commitment from Board members, the CEO and other staff.  Building a Level 5 Board makes that time commitment worthwhile in pursuing the mission.


Katherine Whitney works closely with nonprofit organizations in Board governance, strategic planning and organizational development, including CEO searches.  She is a co-founder and director of Warren Whitney.  She has more than 25 years of experience in helping organizations reach their potential. Katherine has a passion for helping to strengthen non-profit organizations by building good business practices to support their missions.

October 2018 Newsletter: Fractional CFO of Goodwill

By | Case Studies, Finance & Accounting, Nonprofit


Warren Whitney is proud of the over 25-year relationship we have enjoyed with Goodwill of Central and Coastal Virginia. While our relationship began with a series of various projects, it has deepened through the long-standing Fractional CFO role. Over the years, we have become an integral partner in Goodwill’s mission to “change lives by helping people help themselves through the power of work”. Goodwill’s workforce development services are designed to give people the life skills and job training they need in order to secure and maintain employment. As one of the first social enterprises in the U.S., much of Goodwill’s revenue is generated by people donating items such as: clothes, housewares, toys, electronics, furniture … even cars! Proceeds from reselling these items – as well as from contract services and philanthropy — allow Goodwill’s mission to become a reality.

Charles Layman, President and CEO of Goodwill of Central and Coastal Virginia, recently sat down with Stephanie Ford, Director at Warren Whitney, to dive deeper into Goodwill’s achievements and explore the role Warren Whitney has played throughout its journey of growth.


SF: Tell us about one of the biggest challenges Goodwill has faced and how Warren Whitney helped you overcome it?

CL: One of the biggest challenges we faced was having employees keep pace with the change in growth we were experiencing. As we hired individuals, they were often good for that particular timeframe in which they were hired. However, many didn’t have the bandwidth to take us to the next level. When we brought Warren Whitney Co-founder Scott Warren on as a fractional CFO, he gave us access to expertise we otherwise could not afford, and he took us to the next level without skipping a beat.


SF: How did you know that the fractional CFO model was right for Goodwill?

CL: (1) A fractional CFO brought us a higher level of business expertise, acumen, and experience that we would not have been able to afford as a full-time expense. (2) The right fractional CFO becomes an integral part of the leadership team and strategic thinking. He or she has the ability to take our organization to a higher level and at a faster pace we otherwise wouldn’t have the capacity for, and help us to think strategically and broader.

SF: Why would you recommend a Fractional CFO?

CL: (1) The main factor is the level of experience and exposure offered in the business world. (2) The affordability of being able to bring in that high level of expertise into the organization. (3) A fractional CFO can be objective, non-emotional, and have a fresh perspective.


SF: How has Scott’s role evolved over the years?

CL: Scott has been involved with Goodwill in a number of engagements dating back to the 1990s. When we merged with the Hampton Roads Goodwill in 2006, consulting with Scott on new systems to improve efficiencies was instrumental as we began to manage a broader territory. These strategic discussions directed the transition as we smoothly doubled the size of our territory with limited resources. Soon after, Scott joined us as a Fractional CFO. His primary focus was debt and bond management, banking relations, cash flow, forecasting, and strategic planning. Now, in addition to that, he oversees Human Resources and IT.


CL: The biggest value in having Scott Warren has been his integrity and ability to relate internally and externally; internally with our leadership team and board of directors, externally with our stakeholders. The fractional nature of his work also allows Scott to stay very involved in the community and keep his finger on the pulse of changes and opportunities that can benefit Goodwill.


SF: We want to congratulate you on becoming a finalist in the “large organization” category for the 2018 ChamberRVA IMPACT AWARD. What makes Goodwill a good candidate?

CL: Goodwill gets people to work who have not been working. It is giving them the ability to become contributing citizens. We are supporting them to break barriers and move up the career ladder. Last year, over 2,000 people were placed in employment with Goodwill of Central and Coastal Virginia. When it comes to impact, we look at earnings of those people as compared to their dependence on subsidies. It builds the economy, their self-confidence, and self-esteem.


May 2018 Newsletter

By | Nonprofit, Strategy

Board Room Confidential: Working term limits to your advantage

It happens all the time. Board members serve for long, extended periods of time, sometimes indefinitely. This can make for a difficult and uncomfortable situation. You are grateful and value your board members’ dedication to your organization …. But it is time for some fresh ideas. A common question asked is:


We interviewed Katherine Whitney, our cofounder and managing partner on this topic. She recently dealt with this common pushback and having over 30 years of experience in the industry, who better to explain:

  • Why term limits are so important; the risks in not having them and their added value.
  • The best approach to part ways amicably and keep these individuals engaged in the organization.
  • How best to move forward.

Question: Why bother with term Limits?

Katherine Whitney: Term Limits are a tough topic to tackle.  You can get away without them as long as it works, but when it stops working, I believe the organization is at greater risk of not making a smooth transition.  Here are some of the risks in not having term limits:

  1.  One or more people stop doing the work that needs to be done by board members, and there’s no graceful way to have them rotate off the board.  I’ve seen this happen with board members who love an organization and who have worked hard for it, but at some point, they just get tired or get involved in other things.  Because the organization is important to them, they don’t want to resign; because they’ve done great work in the past, others on the Board are hesitant to ask them to rotate off.  Then that lack of work lowers the standard for engagement for all Board members.
  2.  Especially, for an original founding board, there is the risk that a large part of the board wears out all at once.  Several key people are suddenly really ready to rotate off, but no one has been brought along to replace them.
  3.  People who are not on the Board but who are interested in the organization begin to sense that there’s no place for them at the governing level.
  4.  Adding new people to the Board increases the opportunity to broaden the circle. A Board that is filled with legacy Board members doesn’t have enough space for new members.

Question: Can we say goodbye on good terms?

KW: Absolutely. Most organizations have community leaders associated with them.  They can roll off the Board when their terms are up, stay off for a year and stay engaged, and come right back on to start a new term.  That can work well.

Another option is to consider an emeritus category.  Typically, you would limit the number of spots available, but this would give you a handful of spots for Board members who have gone above and beyond.  These seats are forever but are usually non-voting.

Question: How do we continue to bring new and fresh talent to join our board?

Answer: Cultivating and engaging new board members is challenging.  I often compare it to the discipline of getting & staying in shape.  It’s hard to build the processes and transitions that are needed, and you need to give yourself some time and be regulated about taking the right steps.

It’s best to get some buy in from Board members before you approach new people.  It’s important to have a process that the governance (aka nominating or board development) committee takes to:

  • Determine the skills and experience needed from new board members
  • Identify potential new board members
  • Agree on which ones to approach

In short, the lesson is clear. Term Limits are a necessity. They act as a safeguard not only for the organization but also to keep a healthy and productive environment in the board room.

Katherine Whitney is a co-founder and managing partner of Warren Whitney. With more than 30 years of experience in helping organizations reach their potential, Katherine has a passion for helping to strengthen non-profit organizations by building good business practices to support their missions. Katherine holds an MBA from University of North Caroline at Chapel hill, and a BS in Mathematics from Davidson College. She is also a graduate of Leadership Metro Richmond and a BoardSource Certified Governance Trainer. If you are looking for help with your business, email Katherine at .

Technology & Operations Services Overview

By | Family Businesses, Nonprofit, Technology and Operations

Organizations need efficient business processes and robust technologies to remain competitive. Warren Whitney provides a variety of fractional and project based management services to help businesses improve operational efficiency, adapt to industry changes, and prepare for continued growth. Our professionals typically assist clients with strategic needs, but we can also roll up our sleeves and help drive tactics once the strategies are in place. Examples of services we provide are:


  • Leadership assistance during transition or loss
  • Fractional CIO/COO leadership services

Strategy and Planning

  • Organizational assessment and design
  • Technology SWOT evaluations and long range planning
  • Governance, risk management, and policy definition
  • M&A readiness assessments and post transaction assistance
  • Management reporting, KPIs, and executive dashboards
  • Turnaround planning

Management and Consulting

  • Management of internal and external resources
  • Staff mentoring and management development
  • Large project oversight and management
  • Expense evaluation and stabilization
  • RFP and systems/vendor selection processes
  • System conversion, integration, and migration planning
  • Information management and reporting
  • Process evaluation and optimization
  • Vendor review and service quality management
  • Resource needs definition and sourcing

All our professionals have significant management and leadership experience in a wide variety of industries. We have a proven ability to “right size” solutions that can help you address your most complex needs.

Please contact David Nelms at 804-282-9566 to discuss ways we can help you address any issues and improve your business performance.

Key Considerations for Nonprofit Mergers

By | Nonprofit, Strategy

Cropped Katherine websize

Contributor: Katherine Whitney

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Many boards and nonprofit CEOs are quick to reel back at the mention of a possible merger. For some, considering a merger may be a necessity – for others it may just be a best practice as forward thinking leaders.   Important considerations include timing, mission alignment, operational fit and process.


When should nonprofit leaders think about possible mergers?  An obvious trigger point is when an organization is financially unable to sustain its mission.  In such circumstances, a merger may be a necessary option.  A less urgent time may be when, in the course of regular collaboration with others in your sector, you find partners that may be able to achieve more through a merger than either organization could separately.  A final example is when there is a change in a nonprofit’s CEO.  Strong boards are not afraid of thinking through whether a merger can strengthen their leadership talent.  In any of these cases, the decision may not be to pursue a merger, but by considering the option the board has taken an important step in pursuing its fiduciary duty.


What organizations are potential partners?  Some proponents of mergers seem to support a broad array of combinations of entities.  That’s not the best approach.  Once CEOs and/or boards have agreed on potential merger partners, serious testing of their mission alignment is in order.  Ensure that each party understands the other’s mission, vision, values and core programs.   A good test of alignment is to see whether the current mission of either party could serve as the mission for both.  Alternatively, draft a test mission statement that would be appropriate for the combined entities.  If you can’t write a compelling draft statement, perhaps the alignment is not strong enough.


If the missions align, will the organizations fit?  At this stage, a thorough feasibility assessment is in order.  Start by assessing the culture of each organization.  After mission, culture is the most important consideration – and the hardest to fix if there isn’t a good fit.  Beyond culture, a partial list of considerations include:

  • The impact on fund development. Will this strengthen the donor base, or will donors see this as an opportunity to cut funding?
  • The new organizational structure. How will leadership responsibility be merged?  Will positions be eliminated or will you need new positions?
  • The financial impact. Will the new model save money for either organization or will additional funds be needed to achieve the new mission?  What will need to change with compensation and benefits, and how much will that cost?
  • Governance structure.  Will the boards be merged?  Will a smaller organization have one or more board seats after the merger?
  • Corporate structure.  What is the best structure for the reorganization?  Merger? Acquisition?  A new umbrella organization?


Are there any skeletons?  Due diligence is an important step for both organizations.  The goal should be to have “no surprises” after a merger.  The list of due diligence documents includes corporate documents, minutes, financial statements, legal information and insurance information.  It’s easy enough to find the long list of documents to exchange; it’s critical for the reviewer(s) to be thorough and experienced enough to identify areas for further investigation.


What happens after board approval?  Leaders who have been through mergers will probably tell you that this is when the hard work begins.  Each of the areas considered during the feasibility assessment needs an implementation plan built around the actual planned merger date.  What legal documents need to be prepared, approved and filed? How do you bring staff together to form a new, well-integrated team?  How will accounting systems be integrated?  Who will actually serve on the board?  What are the details of the insurance policy?  One final, very important consideration, what is the communications plan?   


The process is not trivial, especially when you remember that the basic work of the organizations needs to continue all throughout the process.  Look for ways to provide assistance to the people leading the process; thank the CEOs and board leaders because they are doing more work than most people can imagine; and remember that it is worthwhile if you strengthen your ability to fulfill your organization’s mission.


Warren Whitney professionals are happy to provide additional insight on the merger process.  Please don’t hesitate to call.






Summer Staffing Alternatives When Employees Take Vacation

By | Family Businesses, Human Resources, Nonprofit

Paul Small

Contributor: Paul Shelley, Sr.

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For over 15 years, Warren Whitney has been assisting both non-profit and for-profit clients with their human resources and staffing needs and issues.  During this time, we have learned that the summer months can present staffing and productivity challenges since many employees take vacation during the summer months.  The following are suggestions that we advise our clients to do (or not to do) in order to minimize staffing headaches during the summer months:

  • Have a scheduling procedure, and ask employees to schedule time off as far in advance as possible.  Make the departmental vacation schedule available to those in the department.  Make it clear that the department must continue to operate smoothly and everyone can’t take vacation at the same time.  Those who schedule vacations far in advance are those that will most likely be approved.  Those who wait to make their vacation plans may find that the time-off request must be denied due to the department needs and other employees’ scheduled vacation.


  • Hire high school and/or college students to work during the summer.  They are not expensive, want to learn and can fill in gaps in the workforce during the summer.  Many organizations hire several students/interns and rotate them around to different departments as needed.  The student gets a summer job, makes some money and learns some skills.  The organization gets some workload relief for employees who are out on vacation.  Also, the organization gets to know the student and his/her work performance/skills and may want to hire him/her for several summers, part-time work during the school year, or even for a full-time position once he/she graduates.


  • Hire individuals who are willing to work on a part-time, fill-in or temporary basis.  There are plenty of people, such as retirees, who would like to work some hours but not all the time.  Ask your employees for referrals and/or contact some of your former employees to see if they might want to work a week or so at a time or a few days per week or month to fill in for employees on vacation.  Many of these retired people and very flexible and highly skilled.


  • Call a temp agency.  We suggest that if you use a temp agency, use one that you have established a relationship with over time and are satisfied with the services and quality of people they provide.  If you don’t have a relationship with a temp agency, start now to establish a relationship with one or two.  Ask around to other organizations to determine the temp agencies they use and which ones they like best.  Organizations that use temp agencies can tell you very quickly which ones they like best and which ones provide the best services, rates and assign good workers. Although Warren Whitney is not a temp staffing agency, we can provide employees for short-time, temporary assignments especially for administrative or accounting (all levels) needs.


  • Provide a laptop computer, tablet or smart phone (if they don’t already have one) to an employee on vacation so that they can check emails and deal with any emergencies while on vacation.  This may not be appropriate for some positions but may be highly appropriate for other positions.  Some employees may not want to do this but some employees would rather do this than come back to work to find a large number of emails waiting for them and a lot of issues to deal with upon his/her return.  Many of the issues are probably minor that could be passed to others to handle, or the employee can decide which ones can wait to be handled upon his/her return. At least they are keeping in touch during their vacation and will not be blindsided or overwhelmed upon their return to the office.


Paul Shelley, Director at Warren Whitney, is responsible for the Recruiting and Human Resources (HR) Practice Unit.  Contact Paul at or at (804) 282-9566.


The CEO’s Role in Creating a Great Board

By | Nonprofit, Strategy

Cropped Katherine websize

Contributor: Katherine Whitney

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If you find a great nonprofit, you will often find a great board behind it.  Workshops and webinars abound to ensure board members understand their roles and responsibilities.  We encourage governance committees to have a written description of board member expectations that are discussed with potential board members.   This article discusses some of the things that the best nonprofit CEOs do to help ensure they get the great boards they deserve.

The best CEOs:

  • Establish a personal relationship with each board member.  Board members, like most of us, tend to work harder to help people we know, trust and like.  The more the CEO knows about board members, the more s/he will understand the skills they bring to the board and the things that motivate them.  When there’s a job to be done, who is the best to ask, and how do you ask them?


  • Judge how much time a board member wants to spend on the organization and respect the board member’s preferences.   Some board members are “all in”  and have plenty of time to give; others may be “all in” but have to work within work or family time constraints.  Asking for too much, too often is a sure way to alienate a great board member.


  • Ask board members to tackle assignments that are meaningful to them and helpful to the organization.  Most board members want to make a difference.  If it’s not clear to them that they are adding value, they are likely to focus their attention elsewhere.


  • Provide good educational information to help board members stay abreast of key industry trends and issues.  It is not unusual for a board member to join a board without a great depth of industry knowledge, certainly not enough to be effective at setting strategic direction.  Books, articles and discussions will help them gain insight and a framework for making good decisions.


  • Say “thank you” more often and in more ways than anyone can count – and thrice over if the board member has ever held the position of board chair.


  • Find ways to keep past board members interested and engaged after their terms are over.  By the time a board member rotates off the board, s/he should be one of the organization’s biggest advocates.  It would be a shame to let a cheerleader like that lose interest.  An annual event that brings them back to the organization – along with the friends they made while on the board can be an easy step in that process.

This is an ongoing process that progresses over a board member’s entire term.  However, the best CEOs know that it starts as soon as the slate of new board member nominations has been approved.


HR and Recruiting Services

By | Human Resources, Nonprofit

A nonprofit museum needed a bookkeeper. The museum staff had searched for a few weeks, but was unsuccessful in finding the appropriate candidate to fill the position. The museum contacted Warren Whitney’s Paul Shelley to recruit for the position. In addition, Warren Whitney’s Pauline Murphy served as the interim bookkeeper.

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Operational Analysis

By | Finance & Accounting, Nonprofit

After several years of underperforming against budget, this nonprofit health care organization engaged Warren Whitney’s Gene Gregory to conduct an operational analysis to identify opportunities for improvement in operations and their potential impact on the financial position of the organization.

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