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2015 Financial Executive of the Year Award: LARGE NON-PROFITS

Thomas Ammer
Villa of Hope
As the vice president of finance and administration, Thomas Ammer oversees the financial matters at Villa of Hope, but he sees his work in helping those who deal with matters of the heart as having the most important impact.

“The mission of the Villa of Hope is to help kids and families who are in a tough spot,” Ammer said. “I don’t work with the kids myself but with the people who do the work. I’ve never been around more committed, inspired, hardworking people. It’s hard not to get caught up in that.”

Ammer has a long list of accomplishments at the Villa, including reducing 90-day outstanding debt from 13 percent to 2 percent, championing the adoption of an electronic client record to streamline billing, and helping to develop strong investment policies for the $21 million non-profit agency.

Ammer joined the non-profit sector following a career in the corporate world, first with Xerox Corp. as a manager on the finance team and then with JC Jones & Associates LLC, where he rose to the level of partner. Clients such as Time Warner Cable often sought him out; he was known for the way he mentored those he served.

There are goals Ammer works hard to achieve that he considers essential, even though they cannot be measured on a spreadsheet.

“It’s being able to help a little so the environment for the people can be more effective and they will look forward to doing what they do here every day,” he said. “If I can help them by doing that, then I’m doing a good job.”
—Lori Gable

Patricia Cunningham
CP Rochester and Happiness House

Patricia Cunningham serves as the chief financial officer of not one but two non-profit agencies: CP Rochester/United Cerebral Palsy Association of the Rochester Area Inc. and Happiness House/Finger Lakes United Cerebral Palsy Inc. She said she can manage the double workload mainly because of one reason.

“I have great people working under me that allow me to split my time,” Cunningham said.

Since being named CFO of CP Rochester in 2013, Cunningham is credited with transforming its financial standing by moving the agency from a $2 million operating deficit to an operating surplus of $1 million. She expanded funding resources at Happiness House and also served on its capital campaign committee, helping the agency to reach its goal of $1.5 million.

Cunningham was the lead financial resource on the synergy committee of both agencies, which developed a parent corporation called Ability Partners Inc. last December; CP Rochester and Happiness House are now both subsidiaries. In addition, she secured $3 million in financing for the construction of a service facility in Canandaigua for Happiness House, a project she especially enjoyed because she could wear a different hat.

“I was involved with the financial piece, but I was also going to bi-weekly construction meetings with Mary Boatfield, the president of Happiness House, and Terrie Meyn, COO,” Cunningham said. “All three of us were involved and once the building was up and running it was beautiful to see.”

While it is her job to oversee the financial management of the agencies, she never loses sight of the ultimate goal of her work: to serve people. That is something she learned long ago from her father.

“Growing up, my father was executive vice president and treasurer at St. Ann’s Home. Watching him, he was my role model,” Cunningham said. “Accounting came easy to me. When I graduated, I looked for a non-profit because I saw how my father was able to make a difference. Accounting can be done anywhere; why not do it where I can make an impact?”
—Lori Gable

Amy Vars
Rochester Area Community Foundation

Rochester Area Community Foundation is the largest foundation in Rochester, and Amy Vars is credited for her part in its progressive growth.

Total assets under her management as vice president of finance and administration have increased from $180 million to $313 million.

Vars has led major initiatives at Community Foundation such as ensuring it has a solid business continuity and di-saster recovery plan in place. Both are critical since hundreds of non-profits rely on the annual $21.5 million in grants it awards to support their critical work.

She is also responsible for spearheading committees in finance, investment, audit and technology. All are composed of volunteers or board members who may or may not have financial training. She works to ensure they have a clear understanding of all reports.

“Year after year, I am most proud of the fact that the Community Foundation has a very successful year-end audit with no adjustments and a clean audit opinion,” Vars said. “To me, having a solid audit each year is crucial not only to our organization but also to our donors, who can be confident that their contributions are appropriately invested and the foundation is efficiently run.”

Vars volunteers her time in the community as well. She has been active with Fairport Baptist Homes and Seasons Child Care, where she served as a board member and president of the parent advisory council.

“I have focused my career in the non-profit realm because I like the idea that although I oversee the finances and all back-office responsibilities, I am part of an organization that is helping to make our community better and stronger,” Vars said. “It’s exciting to be supporting non-profits throughout our eight-county region that deal with critical issues that affect people every day.

“If my team and I can ensure that solid financial practices are in place, my colleagues at the Community Foundation can focus on making this important work possible.”
—Lori Gable

5/15/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email [email protected]

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