Ron Clarke was born and raised in Hartford, Connecticut. After earning his BA in History and American Studies from Fairfield University in 1985, he followed his interest in Asian history and moved to Taiwan where he lived for 4 years. There he learned Chinese while working for the computer company ACER as its first English language copywriter and then at Ogilvy & Mather as an account executive where he helped establish its public relations effort.
In 1989, Ron’s career then took a turn into the insurance industry where he began a 20-year career with American International Group (AIG) in Central and Eastern Europe. In 1994 he moved to Shanghai to start AIG’s operations there. For the next ten years, his work included turnarounds and establishing startup operations in the firm’s Accident and Health Insurance operations. He then “spent a few years at insurance intermediaries” before shifting his focus in 2015 to serving nonprofits through his firm Clarke Consultants.
Q. What was your path to nonprofit work after so many years in financial services?
My initial substantive exposure to nonprofits involved providing strategic planning and other advisory services organizations like the Diocese of Bridgeport and the Furman Rugby Foundation as part of my consulting practice. This motivated me to enroll in Fairfield University’s MA in Public Administration program in 2017. The program of study spent a lot of time on running the business end of the nonprofit and emphasized that ‘nonprofit’ is a tax designation, not a license to lose money. I focused on nonprofit management and while searching for a thesis topic, I asked an economics professor, “What’s the economic impact of a person returning to society?” He replied, “You should examine the opportunity cost by being incarcerated. How do they return to society? What is their economic outlook?” Ultimately, I pursued this line of questioning and produced a thesis: The Economic Landscape in Connecticut for Returning Citizens. It was, to say the least, eye-opening to learn about the systemic barriers that limit and/or prevent returning citizens from changing their lives and meeting their potential.
How did you get involved with SVP?
My wife is friends with Marjorie Almansi who was, and still is, working for SVP. We also knew her because I had been her son’s football coached at Staples High School in Westport. She and I talked about SVP’s goals and how they advised nonprofits and it seemed like a perfect fit for me.
My first project with SVP was working with Career Resources, Inc. (CRI). CRI needed help determining where and how they should focus their efforts. They were a really good organization in many ways, but they were involved in a very wide variety of efforts and sometimes chased grants that didn’t necessarily fund their core activities or support their strategic direction. They needed help developing a strategy that concentrated their efforts on specific programs designed to help their target populations (the formerly incarcerated, the homeless, and under-employed individuals). Ultimately, CRI created a stand-alone employment agency that, instead of referring clients to the America Jobs Centers, put them through soft skills training, and connected them with employers directly.
Later, I became the co-team leader for Emerge CT where we mentored the new executive director through the challenges of continuing operations through COVID and helped them established better operational practices with respect to their financial reporting and data management. Now, I’m co-team leader for two new SVP nonprofit partners, Bridgeport Prospers and Opportunities Industrialization Centers of CT.
Has your work with SVP lived up to your initial expectations?
Working with SVP and our nonprofit partners has definitely exceeded my hopes. I never expected the depths of SVPs engagement as a volunteer. If we’d done only 50% of what we’d set out to do, it would have exceeded my expectations. The people involved with SVP, their commitment, and the extent of our involvement in systems change in workforce development all have real substance.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about yourself?
I care deeply about coaching youth sports - high school football is my passion. There’s a teacher in me and there’s something nice about working with kids. I seem to understand them and they respond to me. I have relationships with every kid on the varsity and freshman teams. It’s a bit of a calling.