By Dwain Hebda
Published in: Lincoln Business Journal (March 15, 2000)
Giving customers what they want and showing them value for their dollar are tenets of successful for-profit companies. Over the past six years Larry Pitcher, president of Christian Record Service in Lincoln, has put the principles to work in turning around the not-for-profit organization.
"Donors can be very generous if they feel the money is being well spent," Pitcher said. "The thriving economy has put businesses in a particularly good spot for contributing to not-for profit and charitable projects."
Pitcher showed his business savvy as he built a commercial painting and wallpaper contracting operation in Michigan before he became head six years ago of Christian Record Services, which produces a variety of braille, large print and recorded media for the visually impaired.
"Some of the things that make the for-profit sector go won't work for a nonprofit organization, but some things are consistent," he said. "For instance, timely delivery of a good or service is something that never changes."
It's also necessary to keep up with technology and make capital improvements, he said. He began by improving efficiency through advanced automation.
"Donors look more favorably on equipment upgrades because they see the improvements as more cost-effective than just loading on more staff," Pitcher said.
Businesses may have liked the idea that their money was putting reading materials into the hands of blind and visually impaired people, but what they really responded to was that Pitcher spoke their language of productivity and efficiency.
"It's a nice bonus to be able to put a plate on the machine saying that it was made possible by so-and-so," Pitcher said, "but the real payout is that they feel their money is going to good use as well as a good cause."
Pitcher secured a donor who put up the $35,000 needed to upgrade a folder in the printing area, doubling the output. A similar equipment upgrade in the audio books recording division increased cassette duplication from around 300 or 400 an hour to 8,000 a day.
That equipment allowed the organization to produce magazines faster without adding staff and was versatile enough to produce Christian Record Services' direct mail pieces, which Pitcher has augmented with a variety of fundraising tools, including a revamped speakers' bureau and professionally produced videos.
The 100-year-old Christian Record Services has launched a fundraising campaign to purchase a $95,000 high-speed printing press.
"Now that we're past some of our issues, we can start to look at expanding into some new areas," Pitcher said. "We're excited about branching into Spanish language materials which will allow us to reach people in a number of new areas internationally.
"We've also seen a growing demand for delivery of our products over the Internet and for use with computers. That's an area we're likely to get into next."
Moving into digital media probably will happen slowly because of the economic situation of many visually impaired people. A Christian Record Services survey found that the majority of people it serves make less than $13,000.
Compared with other physically challenged people, the blind face the narrowest range of employment opportunities and have an unemployment rate of about 70 percent nationally. "At best about 25 percent of our customers can afford a computer," Pitcher said, "but of those who can, the demand is high because it provides so many ways of receiving information."
Printing will continue to be the backbone of Christian Record Services, which produces a number of large print and braille publications for an estimated 50,000 readers worldwide.