Preservation Chapel Hill let its executive director go last week in an attempt to cut expenses and stabilize the nonprofit’s budget.
The organization’s board of trustees will be exploring ways to address increasing shortfalls and declining revenues, Vice President Evan Rodewald said. They’re also looking to members and volunteers to keep programs going, he said.
Executive Director Cheri Szcodronski could return on a contract basis for some projects, he said.
“We hope that in energizing our volunteers and getting people more directly involved in the operations of the organization that that will also have a positive effect on our donations and membership,” Rodewald said.
Szcodronski was hired in 2011 and promoted in 2012 when Ernest Dollar left to work for the Raleigh City Museum. Her tenure included an updating the town’s historic building inventory, completing a 5-year Old Chapel Hill Cemetery study, and expanding the Franklin-Rosemary National Historic District, as well as holding National Preservation Month celebration events in May and local history tours.
“Cheri’s done a lot of great work for the organization,” Rodewald said. “We’re just at a point where – as board members – we can’t meet the fiduciary obligations of the organization and continue to pay the salary of an executive director.”
Preservation Chapel Hill reported revenues of $123,698 in 2013 – the last full-year tax return available – and $64,111 in the first six months of 2014, when it switched from a January-December to a July-June budget year.
Tax returns from June 2015 were not immediately available, Rodewald said.
UNC leases the Horace Williams House to the organization for $1 a year, Szcodronski said, but the organization pays for maintenance and repairs to the 162-year-old house. There has been significant work to the front porch, roof, walls, and heating and cooling systems in the last five years, she said.
Any repairs must meet more expensive commercial standards, Rodewald said, and insurance and groundskeeping also add up.
Tax returns show Preservaton Chapel Hill spent $85,876 – roughly 69 percent of its budget – on maintenance and operations in 2013 and $61,862 – about 96 percent – in the first six months of 2014. It tapped savings to make up the shortfall both years, records show.
Contributions and grants declined over the same period, from a record high of $83,228 in 2012 when it celebrated its 40th anniversary. Grants and contributions totaled $35,123 in 2013 and $23,869 in the first six months of 2014.
While membership dues, programs and events provide stable income, Szcodronski said, the demand for advocacy and research has grown with the town. That kind of work requires a better-paid staff with advanced training in public education and historic preservation and research, she said.
The economic downturn also affected finances, she said, and nonprofits that don’t meet essential community needs are the last to recover.
“We’ve seen a significant drop in membership contributions,” Szcodronski said. “We have the same number of members, so people on the whole are still interested in what we do and want to be supportive, but they don’t have as much to give and they’re not willing to give as much.”
Preservation Chapel Hill has between 275 and 300 members, she said.
Szcodronski will teach preservation and architecture at Piedmont Community College this fall and is expanding her consulting business, Firefly Preservation Consulting, which has done projects in Raleigh and other communities since 2012.
She also wants to return to research and writing, she said, with a focus on Civil War-era history.
“Although I know how much I am going to miss working at the beautiful Horace Williams House and being surrounded by such a supportive community, I have much to look forward to as I embark on this next chapter,” she said.
People interested in volunteering with Preservation Chapel Hill, becoming a member or making a contribution can call 919-942-7818 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.