By Mark Rader, MFA ’02
Last July, after working in finance in the private sector for nearly thirty years, Barbara Bjornson became CFO of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (MSPCC), a Boston–based nonprofit that offers parenting education and support, child abuse intervention programs, and clinical mental health services to children and families throughout Massachusetts. Why?
“It sounds clichéd,” Bjornson says, “but I wanted to be in an environment where I felt I made a difference.” So far, she says, her wish has come true.
When the economy took a hit in 2008, so did the endowments of countless charitable organizations, including the MSPCC. “People didn’t pay that much attention to operating deficits because there was such a significant endowment,” Bjornson says. “Of course, that changed when the economy tanked and our endowment started to shrink.”
Upon starting her new job, Bjornson committed to making the organization break even. Understanding that “the only way to successfully implement dramatic change is to build consensus,” she reached out to site directors, the COO, and others. She listened to their concerns and discussed workable, cost-saving measures. Because the Massachusetts state government funds in-house and group therapies at rates favorable to in-office consultations, Bjornson and her staff have worked to “aggressively move clinicians in that direction.” A big believer in the importance of “really digging deep into something to understand it,” Bjornson discovered over the course of the annual audit that, due to an old and faulty billing system, the agency had $1.2 million of unapplied cash, which has since been mostly applied. Getting to the bottom of the problem and fixing it required an “all hands on deck” approach, she says.
While Bjornson continues to look for ways to streamline operations, the MSPCC continues to look for ways to adapt to the evolving needs of the communities it serves. The organization is working to figure out its role in the growing problem of school bullying, whether that means advocating for legislation, writing white papers, or providing services. It’s also working with Mass General and the Red Sox Foundation to offer support for the spouses and children of Massachusetts soldiers, a woefully underserved constituency.
The passion she sees in her colleagues, and the good work the organization does is a powerful motivator, Bjornson says.
“In everything I do, I’m able to see a connection to the great services we provide,” she says. “That’s such a cool way to spend my day.”