New CEO is youngest in agency's 38 years

Author: Eileen Schulte

When Religious Community Services announced that it needed a new chief executive officer, more than 60 people applied from as far away as Pennsylvania, New York and Colorado.

But the right man for the job was just down the hall.

The RCS board of directors has named M. Duggan Cooley III, the organization's development director for the past nine months, to the position effective Oct. 1.

At 25, he will be the youngest CEO in the organization's 38-year history, interim CEO William Trautwein said.

"I think it's an excellent choice," Trautwein said of Cooley, praising his energy and the presentation he made during the search.

RCS is a nonprofit organization that feeds the hungry, helps homeless families become self-sufficient and supports survivors of domestic violence.

Members of the RCS board also were impressed by Cooley's education.

He has a bachelor of science degree in psychology and a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Florida. He also holds a master's in nonprofit administration, graduating cum laude from the University of Notre Dame. Before coming to RCS, Cooley was the stewardship and development director of St. Augustine Church in Gainesville.

Cooley replaces Ron Dickman, 61, who abruptly left the job in June after working for the faith agency for more than 10 years.

Cooley's salary will be negotiated next week; the pay range for the job is between $60,000 and $80,000 a year.

Cooley has ambitious plans for the agency, which is made up of about 80 churches and synagogues and has a $5.5-million budget from grants and private donations.

First, he said, he plans to strengthen fundraising efforts with churches and secular donors by meeting in person with potential donors.

"It's done by building relationships, solid relationships with the community," Cooley said. "My next step is to find strong business partners who will supply volunteers (and support RCS monetarily)."

He said he has already brought in $317,000 in grants and donations.

He is part of the 2007 class of Leadership Pinellas, a program dedicated to helping identify problems in the community.

This year, Cooley said, RCS helped 50,000 Pinellas County residents through its food bank, thrift store, homeless shelter and domestic violence center. Although numbers are down this year, in 2005, the organization had 1,200 volunteers who gave 23,000 hours of their time to help others.

Cooley is a native Floridian who grew up in Windermere, which is just outside Orlando. He learned compassion from his mother and father, who were involved in community service. It was not unusual for his family to spend hours working in local soup kitchens.

"My parents had a strong commitment to helping people," Cooley said.