ABN Expert Spotlight: Ross Jones

With a passion to see nonprofits fulfill their mission to bring about social good, Ross Jones understands that the mission of an organization is only as good as the culture that defines it and the leadership that guides it.

Ross started his career in student ministry and for close to a decade, developed both local and international teams of ministry. After working in the private sector for eight years, Ross came back to his roots in 2014 and started working at the Knoxville Dream Center with a desire to see those less fortunate served well in East Tennessee.

Ross has a unique perspective and insight into the cultural nuances, strengths, and struggles associated with nonprofits. As a certified trainer in Leadership Impact and Management Impact feedback systems developed by Human Synergistics, Ross helps leadership and management teams recognize ways they can develop prescriptive leadership strategies to create a more constructive organizational culture. Ross’ passion is to build better communities by developing better nonprofit leaders.

Read our interview with Ross Jones below.

Where did you grow up?

I am a “mutt.”  Born in Delaware, moved to Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, and then landed in Knoxville!

How did you get your start working with nonprofits?

I was in the private sector for close to ten years after eight years in the ministry. About six years ago, my good friend and boss, Paul Harris, was the COO of Lost Sheep Ministry. We talked and he brought me on to not only work at Lost Sheep, but to launch a new nonprofit, the Knoxville Dream Center.

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

In the past it has been “taboo” to bring up the cost of operations when procuring donor dollars. That is shifting.  Stakeholders and donors alike are realizing that to run an excellent nonprofit organization, operations has to be part of the conversation.

What do you see as the biggest threat to a nonprofit’s success?

Lack of partnerships. I think most nonprofits understand that our job is to be change agents in our culture and the only way to do that is to partner with all sectors. No one organization has the answer for the challenges we face. I believe most nonprofits like to partner, but for those who do not, they will not adapt and face hard times in the future.

Tell us one thing (person, place, book, tv show, activity, etc.) that has your attention right now.

The book “How to Make the World Add Up” by Tim Harford.  This is a great read on the importance of statistics in a world that is cynical about statistics.

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

Great question. 1) I would say clear communication with all stakeholders (volunteers, staff, donors, etc.). 2) Become high tech/high touch. The new generation of stakeholders are savvy with new technology. The organizations that adopt technology without forsaking the importance of genuine human relationships will thrive. 3) Curiosity – stay curious about the various challenges our society faces and how your organization can play a part in addressing those issues. 4. Value consistency. Be consistent with everything you do so your volunteers, donors, and those you serve know they can count on you. 5. Avoid mission drift. Knowing who you are and the role you play is important in making a lasting impact.

What do you love about working with ABN?

This may sound too shallow, but ABN is encouraging. ABN really wants people and organizations to succeed and it shows in the way you communicate and sit down with all of your clients. You are really interested in what you do.

What is one thing you wish other people knew about nonprofits?

Nonprofits like to partner. Yes, we are all looking for donor dollars (and sometimes from the same audience), but the more we partner, the more meaningful and lasting the impact can be for the communities we serve.

What is your vision for your organization five years from now?

Currently, we look to scale up our new nonprofit acquisition, Nehemiah Projects. Nehemiah Projects performs home repair projects for widows in Knoxville. We want to make more of an impact in the city by partnering with the private sector and other nonprofits to help this vulnerable community.

Do you worry about any unintended consequences from what you are trying to accomplish?

Not really. I think if you prepare and plan as much as you can, then you won’t be paralyzed in moving forward with your vision. In fact, unintended consequences may be opportunities in disguise.

What are some key things a leader can implement today that could help make some shifts or at least create fertile soil for culture change in their organization?

Fertile soil is possible when you have the right “nutrient balance.” One of the most important nutrients is clear communication. The culture of an organization will be fertile if everyone knows the vision and the expectations and roles each actor has moving forward.


Ross’ consulting specialties include leadership and management impact assessments and content marketing. To work with Ross, start by contacting ABN’s Director of Capacity Building, Elle Benson, at ebenson@betternonprofits.org. Learn more about ABN Consulting at betternonprofits.org/consulting.