When seeking to replace its longtime president this summer, United Way of Pasco leaders promised to cast a wide net, even if that meant looking abroad.
In the end, they found what they were looking for less than 100 miles away.
M. Duggan Cooley III, chief executive officer of Religious Community Services in Pinellas County, will assume the Pasco job held for more than a decade by Susan Arnett, who retired in June.
Cooley, 30, was the youngest CEO ever tapped to lead the Pinellas nonprofit agency, which was founded in 1967 by 14 congregations of various faiths. It isn't run by a church or religious organization. But most of the 2,000 volunteers a year who supplement its 75 employees come from churches. He was hired in 2006 as director of development, and was promoted to CEO in less than a year. The organization feeds the hungry, helps homeless families become self-sufficient and supports survivors of domestic violence.
"The selection committee (members) were thinking he was a dream come true," said Pasco County Commission Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand, who also serves on the United Way board of directors.
Cooley 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 Religious Community Services, Cooley was the stewardship and development director of St. Augustine Church in Gainesville.
Under his leadership, RCS increased private donations and grant funding to meet the growing demand for basic needs services during the recent recession, agency officials said.
"By lowering administration costs, centralizing program support infrastructure and prioritizing the core mission of RCS, Cooley made it possible for RCS to serve more than 90,000 people annually throughout Pinellas," the agency said in a press release.
His accomplishments include completing the renovations at a food bank, expanding the thrift store, and securing funding to build a computer learning center at the Grace House homeless shelter. His introduction of green technologies also helped RCS lower monthly expenses.
Under his leadership, RCS has been recognized the past two years as a Top Workplace in Tampa Bay.
Hildebrand said Cooley will face some unique challenges in coming to Pasco.
Most of the county's work force commutes to Hillsborough or Pinellas, and many fail to designate their workplace United Way contributions for Pasco.
"So the money goes to Hillsborough or Pinellas," she said.
Pasco also lacks big private sector employers who are typically big United Way donors, so Cooley will have to cultivate relationships with a lot of small business owners.
Also, Pasco County, like the rest of Florida, has been hit hard by the recession, so the need outstrips donations. She cited the Good Samaritan Clinic as an example.
"We're seeing people who have been in real estate business, professional folks who don't have insurance and they're coming to the clinic," she said. "Folks we depend on for donations are getting tapped out."
Hildebrand, who was not on the search committee, said she was told Cooley wowed members with his fundraising ideas.
"He swooned them with his innovative ideas," she said.
Cooley is a native Floridian who grew up in Windermere, which is just outside Orlando. In 2006, he told the Times 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.
This report includes information from Times files.