ABN Expert Spotlight: Dr. Paul Ries

Dr. Paul Ries is the Principal Consultant for Insightful Nature LLC, a natural resources consulting, communications, and training company. His goal is to help people and organizations build capacity to have greater influence and impact. Dr. Ries focuses on helping people think and plan more strategically to discover new ways to advance their missions, expand their organizational capacity to help them get “unstuck” from cycles of ineffectiveness or chronic lack of progress, improve their ability to communicate strategically, and assess their organizational impact and efficiency. Dr. Ries holds BS and MS degrees in Natural Resources and a doctorate in Educational Leadership. He has over 30 years of experience in the natural resources field, working at the state, local, nonprofit, and academic levels. For over 25 years he has served as a board or staff member for nonprofit organizations ranging from small groups with no staff to an international professional society with an $8 million budget. Having been the first incumbent of three different professional positions in his career and working as a college professor, state agency program manager, public information officer, and nonprofit Executive Director has given him a wide range of experiences in a variety of organizational settings.

Read our interview with Dr. Ries below!

Where did you grow up?

I’m originally from northern Ohio and lived various places in the states of Ohio and Oregon in my life. I’m a recent transplant to East TN – I’ve lived here 3 1/2 years.

How did you get your start working with nonprofits?

I was appointed to my first nonprofit board position in 1991 and have been either a board or staff member of one nonprofit or another pretty much continuously since then. Right now, I consult with nonprofits in the natural resources and environmental fields, and I serve on the board of ABN member Trees Knoxville.

What is one thing that you see changing about nonprofits that you think is for the better?

In the last 30 years, I’ve seen nonprofits move away from the idea that nonprofit organizations don’t have to make a profit. This used to be a prevailing mentality. I tell boards that “nonprofit” is a term that describes why you exist, not how you are supposed to operate. I love seeing nonprofit organizations become entrepreneurial in their approaches to sustaining their programs.

Talk about one thing that has your attention right now?

I’m working on developing a new national green communities leadership course right now, so I’m reading about and watching a lot of leadership topics. My favorite thought-leader in this area is Simon Sinek, a consultant who is a very inspirational speaker.

What are the five most important things a nonprofit should have?

1. Creative Ideas

2. Influential Friends

3. Committed People

4. Directed Passion

5. Enough Money

What’s one thing you wish other people knew about nonprofits?

Just because you have a good idea that needs implementing doesn’t mean you should start up another nonprofit to address it. Find some existing nonprofit you could partner with and try that out first.


Dr. Paul Ries’ consulting specialties include leadership, communications, and strategic planning efforts (including facilitating board retreats, developing written strategic plans, and conducting program assessments). To work with Dr. Ries, start by contacting ABN Director of Capacity Building Elle Benson at ebenson@betternonprofits.org. Learn more about ABN Consulting at betternonprofits.org/consulting.