Anthony H. Bliss is a numbers guy. He’s also a man with a heart. So when the numbers guy had to tell his bosses how to save money in ways that meant losses of jobs and lessening of services, it weighed heavily.
“It was not easy to do,” said Bliss, chief financial officer of Family Service of Rhode Island, which endured layoffs and cuts last year en route to reversing a million-dollar deficit. “We went through some hard times.”
It’s a tough job in a tough field, one that he knows well.
Bliss, 63, has spent his professional life in the nonprofit realm, managing multimillion dollar budgets for hospitals and medical centers in Pennsylvania and his native New Jersey before coming to Rhode Island five years ago to manage FSRI’s $20 million annual budget. The agency, which specializes in helping children and families in need, is one of the state’s oldest nonprofits.
“As a direct result of his leadership and strategic focus, FSRI has experienced significant financial and programmatic growth in line with a clear and diverse, long-term sustainability plan,” said the agency’s CEO, Margaret Holland McDuff, in nominating Bliss for the award.
McDuff said Bliss is responsible for several significant agency milestones, including one in his first three years at the agency, when he turned a $1 million deficit into a $300,000 surplus by 2011. That was a difficult but necessary task, Bliss said.
There were layoffs (a loss of 77 full-time jobs in 2011), salary reductions, every contract was reviewed, he said, clearly not at ease with the human side of cutting costs in an agency that is all about humanity. “The agency was going through a transition,” Bliss said. “Some of the large programs we received state funding for were changed, and we had to change the model of providing services.
“Those were very stressful times for the agency,” he said, adding that FSRI employs more than 300 people “but as the state keeps cutting back, it’s harder and harder on the employees. They deserve to be well-treated, but unfortunately sometimes the dollars aren’t there.”