From World Neighbors to PAMBE Ghana: Richard Williamson

9-williamson-richard-400One of the best things to happen to PAMBE Ghana in 2009 was that Richard Williamson, CPA became Treasurer. He has helped us navigate the tricky waters of international exchange rates, which can wreak havoc on our dollar-based budgets. He’s guided us through salary issues tied to Ghana’s high inflation rate. He prepares our 990 tax returns and heads our very prudent budgeting process. And he’s done this all as a volunteer.

Richard’s day job is with the American Cancer Society’s probate and trust department. “The planned giving people get donors to put us in their wills and trusts. I’m at the end of the process, when we’re collecting the money people have left to us.” This familiarity with the nonprofit environment has been one of Richard’s contributions. Before his ten years at American Cancer Society, Richard spent ten years as the chief financial officer at the beloved Oklahoma-based nonprofit, World Neighbors.

“I met Alice through this, because her husband Peter and I worked in the same office for about six years,” recalled Richard. “Peter introduced me to PAMBE Ghana because they needed someone to help.” Richard wasn’t sure at first if the small organization would survive financially. Today, he is pleased with what we’ve accomplished. “It shows what a person can do if they want to, “ he said. “A lot has been accomplished by Alice’s determination. Somehow she finds a way.”

But some of the behind the scenes, non-sexy things that Richard does help. He insists that PAMBE Ghana budgets a year out – so we raise money in year 1 for year 2. The money we’re spending this year is already in the bank; the money we’re raising today is for next year. “I’ve seen both large and small nonprofits go out of business the other way,” says Richard. “If you’re fundraising to make current expenses you’re always on thin ice.”

Before moving into the nonprofit sector, Richard’s world was oil and gas – for 20 years. He was born in a small Oklahoma town, got his BA and MBA from OU then, after four years in the army, he got his CPA. For nearly the next twenty he worked in the oil and gas business. The first several years in the 1970’s were boom times, when oil and gas was a fun business. But the last years in the 1980’s were the worst the industry has even had. Jobs dried up as companies folded. Richard got a job with a trucking company where he prepared bids for contracts. He had to figure out how to make the low paid workers work harder and faster so that the company would make more money. This experience led Richard to think about what would really satisfy him. That’s when he moved to nonprofit.

He explained that in accounting, the actual job that you’re doing is the same from place to place, but in the nonprofit setting, the mission of what you’re doing is much more satisfying. “You work there because you believe in what they’re doing.” But when the work you’re supporting is in the third world, you are removed from actually seeing the fruit of your labors. Richard has had the good fortune to see first hand some of his results. He’s traveled to Central America twice and Africa three times. This last trip, to Ghana in 2015, was to see PAMBE Ghana’s La’Angum Learning Center.

These trips, to see how the money is being used, make all the difference in the world in understanding what is actually being accomplished. Richard explains, “There is always some skepticism about how the money is being used, and if it’s getting where it needs to go. When you travel overseas and actually see the school building, that there are kids running around smiling and happy, staff members, outfitted classrooms – you get to see what the money is being used for, and you can report back to your donors. Most donors don’t have this opportunity, but we can go, and report back to them.”

Richard has always worked for what he believes in, and helped build strong foundations for new endeavors. As a soccer dad, he was central to building the soccer fields west of Hefner Parkway. He was literally in charge of getting the fields ready for their first season. That meant getting a sprinkler system installed. And grass. But before that, picking up rocks. The site was covered with rocks that had to go before any other work could occur.

Most recently he helped his wife Susan build her retirement dream – a nonprofit duplicate bridge club that welcomes and teaches beginners. With Richard’s help, she opened Fun and Games Duplicate Bridge Club earlier this year at OKC’s Northpark Mall. “We call it our lake house,” jokes Richard, “because instead of a lake house, we have a bridge club!” Richard and Susan’s youngest son, Stuart, a software developer and his wife Kristin, Director of Children’s Services for the Metropolitan Library System (and PAMBE Ghana supporters) went with him to Ghana to visit the school last summer. Their oldest son, Clint, and his wife Natalie, are both radiologists with Integris Hospital. The Williamson’s have six grandchildren.

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-- Teacher's salary
-- Children’s health insurance
-- Montessori materials
-- Teacher education

PAMBE Ghana is a 501(c)(3) registered charitable organization.