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Ooma Business Blog

Ralph Clark shares tips, 2 acronyms and an oxymoron to help nonprofits

By |Monday November 1, 2021

Ralph (R.E.) Clark, associational missionary of the Northwest Baptist Association (NBA), has 40 years of experience running and working with non-profits. His job for the past 22 years has been to stay in close communications with all the organizations that make up the NBA and encourage them along the way.

NBA began more than 175 years ago with 3 little churches that banded together to accomplish more of the work that they had in common than they would ever be able to do individually. Today the voluntary operation has grown to 65 churches and missions located mainly in northwest Arkansas. R.E. helps them stay true to their missions, both in their communities and around the globe.

File the paperwork

One of the first steps to becoming a nonprofit is filing the legal paperwork with the IRS. The NBA congregations had a smoother process than most start-ups. That’s because the NBA was able to file an umbrella application with the IRS that allowed each of its member organizations the same rights and tax exemptions. This saved the congregations time and money and allowed them “to be able to do the greater work.”

Adapt to needs

Northwest Baptist Association members, like most organizations, have been challenged by COVID-19. While they were able to quickly move services online or hold them in parking lots, they needed a way to receive funds. As R.E. points out, you don’t walk around from car-to-car to receive an offering. R.E. helped the members of Northwest Baptist Association move to digital giving. And, incredibly, gifts to these organizations increased. R.E. offers two possible explanations: People were sensitive to the fact that because of COVID there was a greater need of ministry to the community, or they’ve grown accustomed to not carrying cash. Credit or debit cards made the process simpler.

Another recent change was that NBA went virtual. They no longer have a physical building, grounds or an office. Fortunately, the process of moving away from a physical structure to a virtual setting began prior to COVID. “We were ahead of the curve and that was a very wonderful thing for us.” All they had to do was to assure their congregations that the NBA was still around to help. NBA made it clear that members could call the same number, but it would ring on the staff’s cell phones. And instead of meeting in person, they meet virtually.

Both these changes illustrate a phrase to describe nonprofits that R.E. coined: rigidly flexible. He admits it’s a bit of an oxymoron, but every nonprofit must have a foundation. These are the values that your nonprofit will never stray from—the rigid part. When you begin to build upon your foundation, you should be flexible “to make those incremental changes that are necessary to keep the people that are a part of your organization connected to you.”

Hire employees or find volunteers

When it comes to carrying out the work of a nonprofit, you can hire employees or rely on volunteers. “When you hire someone, you get to write the job description. You get to say, ‘If you’re going to come to work for us, these are the items that we expect you to fulfill in the process.’ Volunteers, however, they can pick up their lunch pail and go home anytime they want to.”

It’s important to realize that volunteers bring their own expectations and ideas. To retain volunteers, “you listen well.” Sometimes you take their advice; other times you gently point out that their wonderful ideas may have to wait because you’re on a different path right now.

Stay true to your mission

R.E. cautions nonprofits to “never let your system of values be deteriorated. Never let them be destroyed.” So, when creating your mission and vision statements, make sure they truly reflect your nonprofit and are something you’re going to be able to live out. As he points out, you only get one chance to get it right, so think it through to make sure people get excited when they see your values and want to buy into them.

When looking for ways to get the word out about your organization, R.E. relies on an acronym he learned many years ago, KISS—keep it simple, stupid. “Sometimes we’re caught up in the largeness of society that every year the fireworks display has to be larger than last year’s.” But, R.E. says that doesn’t work well for nonprofits. To keep it simple, find out how your nonprofit can best be an asset to your community. For example, the NBA jumps into action during disasters to provide food, chain-saw crews to cut trees, volunteers to drag mud out of flooded homes. While these things might not make headlines, your community will know you were there for them.

Remember what’s important

Another acronym that R.E. says is important for nonprofits is HELP. It stands for Home, Employment, Loved ones and Plan. If you show your members that you share their top concerns, which are their home, employment and loved ones, then they’ll be willing to help you carry out your organization’s plan. “If people don’t know that you care, they don’t care what you have to share.”

KISS and HELP make it easy for R.E. to remember what his job is all about. R.E. says that after a long career of working with nonprofits, he hopes he’ll be able to “finish out these days on the high horse of integrity and that at the end of it all when I’m the cowboy that’s riding off into the sunset with the big tall white hat upon my head, I’ll be the one that folks will say came into our town and made it better for being here.”

Note: This conversation happened on the Ooma 180 Win podcast. Want to listen to the entire podcast?

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