Kristine Hazzard to step down as head of Berkshire United Way

Kristine Hazzard has announced that she will step down next June from her post as president and CEO of Berkshire United Way. "I want a little bit slower pace," she told The Eagle.

PITTSFIELD — After a decade as president and CEO of Berkshire United Way, Kristine Hazzard is ready to slow things down.

Hazzard will step down from her post June 30, the end of the current fiscal year, board President Richard Rowe announced Thursday.

"Running an organization of our size, you kind of go 24/7," Hazzard told The Eagle. "You're always on."

Berkshire United Way will conduct a national search for Hazzard's replacement and hopes to have somebody "selected and offered a job by the end of March," said board member Pat Callahan, who is heading the search committee. Callahan has extensive experience as a recruiter, having served as a former human resources executive at Wells Fargo.

Hazzard will assist in the search, and intends to spend time with her successor "for a month or longer." After stepping down, she will remain involved with the United Way in an advisory role as a "donor, resource, confidant and huge supporter."

Hazzard, who will be 58 in March, became president and CEO of Berkshire United Way in July 2008, after spending a year as the organization's vice president. Her yearly compensation is $111,236, according to the agency's 2017 income tax filing.

Hazzard, a native of Bristol, Conn., spent nine years as the president and CEO of an agency that provides services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Bridgeport, Conn., before coming to the Berkshires. Hazzard lives in Hinsdale with her husband, Larry, who is an executive at Guardian Berkshire Life in Pittsfield."It's almost 20 years as a CEO," she said. "I want a little bit slower pace. It's not a retirement, I need to stress that. I will still be in the Berkshires, and I intend to still do stuff for community improvement in the Berkshires, but at sort of a different pace, if you will. Maybe as more of a contributor than managing this large group. That's primary.

"Secondary, there are lots of changes going on, and I think it's sort of a real good time for a new set of eyes to sort of look at the community, look at how we fund raise, look at how we invest, all of that piece," Hazzard said. "It's a bit of a transition for the organization and a good time to have a new leader."

Hazzard would also like to spend more "uninterrupted" time with her family, especially with her 3-year-old grandson, Declan, who lives in Richmond, Va.

"Every time I visit him I feel guilty," Hazzard said. "I'm working virtual. I'm taking phone calls. I ask him to nap for the right amount of time so I can get work done."

Rowe said it will be a "a challenge to replace Kris," but added, ''we fully expect to find a very strong and driven professional who will take on the role of CEO and continue the great work being done by Berkshire United Way, as well as help map out and drive strategies and execution to meet the changing needs of our community."

Berkshire United Way, founded in 1924, raises money to support organizations that promote literacy, wellness and other needs across the community. The organization has invested $28 million into the community during Hazzard's 10-year tenure, including $2.09 million in 2017.

Under Hazzard's leadership, the organization has expanded from seven to 15 employees. The nonprofit lists $4.78 million in assets for 2016 on its 2017 income tax return.

Two months after becoming president and CEO, Hazzard changed Berkshire United Way's mission statement to move the agency's focus from strictly a membership organization to one that stresses involvement from the entire community, meaning it would now function as a federated fundraiser with member agencies. Changing Berkshire United Way's direction initially met with resistance from the community, but Hazzard said it also made the nonprofit more accountable to its donors.

"A lot of it had to do with donor sophistication," Hazzard said. "Donors were saying, 'You come back year after year saying things are worse but give us more money.' ... When you're funded by corporations that are used to accountability in everything they do, we shouldn't be surprised when they ask us 'Where's this $2 or $3 million going every year and what's the impact of these things?'

"We had to get focused," she said. "We had to say if we've got a couple of million bucks to invest, where's the point of leverage?"

Hazzard said she is most proud of the work that Berkshire United Way did on lowering the county's teen birthrate during her tenure. Once one of the highest teen birthrates in the state, the Berkshire County rate dropped 54 percent from 2009 to 2015, according to the state's latest data, Hazzard said.

"I would bet you it's lower," she said. "The state rate is now 10 births per 1,000 15- to 19-year-old girls. The county rate is 12. When we started, the county rate was 27. It's really significantly lower."

The Gladys Allen Brigham Center in Pittsfield has worked with Berkshire United Way on teen pregnancy and childhood literacy issues during Hazzard's tenure.

"We've had a wonderful relationship with Kris since she came to the Berkshire United Way," said Kelly Marion, executive director of the center. "For me, she's just had an amazing way of bringing everyone to the table."

Marion praised Hazzard's work on lowering the county's teen pregnancy rate.

"When she came to this community and saw the numbers, she said, 'This is just not acceptable,' " Marion said. "The rate has dropped drastically over the last two years."

Berkshire Children and Families has also worked with the agency on a number of programs, including an innovative evidence-based initiative that helps young parents build self-sufficiency. The United Way supplied the seed money for this venture, which launched about a year and a half ago, said Colleen Holmes, president and CEO of that organization.

"Kris has really just been a catalyst for positive change in this community, for collaboration, and as a champion for youth and families," she said.  "I think what's happened under Kris' leadership is that the Berkshire United Way has supported programming that is innovative."

Former Berkshire United Way board member Jerry Burke, who was on the search committee that selected Hazzard, said her hard work, dedication and energy have greatly exceeded the board's expectations.

"Never one to shy away from a challenge, Kris has focused the Berkshire United Way's efforts in areas that include reducing the teen birthrate, and putting a spotlight on early literacy and the impact of reading proficiency, which have made a tremendous impact on the area we all call home.

"The true measure of a great leader is what you have left behind, and Kris Hazzard has made the Berkshires a better place for all," he said. "From all of us who live here, Kris deserves a tip of the hat for a job well done."

Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at or 413-496-6224.