Pouring Passion into People

In the busy holiday season, when her nonprofit is providing assistance to more than 10,000 families and individuals across Pinellas County, we sat down with nonprofit executive Melinda Perry to discuss the joy and challenges of transformational leadership.

Perry is RCS Pinellas’ Chief Operating Officer, a position she’s held for two-and-a-half years. “My age could be challenge,” she acknowledges. “I’m 37. People are surprised to see a young, female executive. I have to help people look past my age to see the knowledge and experience that I have.”

Doubtless they also see the passion she has in spades for the mission. “Our mission is amazing. I love our mission statement: ‘to feed the hungry, help families facing homelessness return to self-sufficiency and empower survivors of domestic violence.’ I have a real passion for kids. In all of our programs, we help children. They don’t have a choice in what’s happening to them. It hurts my heart to see young people in these situations. But I can help the parents to help the kids,” she beams.

And it would be impossible to miss the impact of her work alongside President and CEO Kirk Ray Smith in righting what had been a sinking ship.

“Some may think female leaders think more with the heart than the head—oh, that’s why she’s in a nonprofit—but we’re running a business here at RCS, and we do it responsibly.”

In fact Perry is the operational yin to Smith’s visionary yang. Together they instituted his trademarked BECQI model in a nonprofit that had run at a significant deficit for years. Significant and difficult structural and staffing changes were made to streamline operations until they came in line with the nonprofit’s existing funding. And then the growth began.

Keeping the focus on Building relationships, Eliminating mistakes, Controlling expenses, Quality programs and services and Increasing revenue (BECQI) allowed them to increase government contracts in 2019, growing the budget by $1.4 million. “We’ve increased the pounds of food we distribute by 2 million pounds. Thanks to this increase, we served 50,000 more people this year than last,” Perry says. “That really drives me.”

Perry says she sometimes feels her career path has been directed by great mentors and fortunate opportunities, but it’s clear she blazed her own trail with a total commitment to organizational excellence and transformational leadership. She’s not afraid to take on the big jobs or execute the difficult decisions in service of mission and impact: “Our mission makes me want to be better, do more, have a bigger impact. If I can get the procedures in place to control expenses, if I can help eliminate mistakes, we can begin measuring real results and talking about the quality of programs. And that attracts revenue. My work is to help the organization help more people!” 

And what about family celebrations during the especially busy holiday season for a nonprofit serving thousands per day? “Don’t wait for a specific day to celebrate and enjoy the people you love,” Perry advises. “Do the holidays on the off days—or at your husband’s fire station with the other firefighters’ families, if you have to! Some of our most meaningful holidays have been spent mingled with other families.”

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