Trying to implement everything you learned at the Care Net National Conference earlier this month? Karen’s fabulous insights are perfect for first time conference participants, and, well, everyone else too. 


Guest post by Karen Ramber

It was my first national conference after becoming the new executive director at a rural pregnancy center. I carefully selected sessions that I thought would be beneficial. In my first session, the presenter said, “You should be spending at least 70% of your time doing this.”  Second session, another presenter said, “You should be spending at least 40% of your time doing this.”  Now, I am no math whiz, but I knew I was in trouble if I was at 110%, and I had only been to two sessions!  At the third session, the sample banquet budget was more than our annual income. The rest of the conference was a blur, going from session to session, collecting my power-point notes, and filling out evaluations.  I was overwhelmed and discouraged.  God obviously had made a mistake and had called the wrong person.

About a week later, I discovered that it wasn’t God, but me who had made the mistake (shocking, I know).  I realized that the presenters at that conference were from larger centers.  They had larger teams of paid staff.  I had two (including me).  So the journey began:  how could I run a successful rural pregnancy center? My hope is to encourage other leaders through challenges like those I’ve faced.  

At another Care Net conference, my Client Services Director and I were challenged to go home and honestly evaluate everything about our center to determine what percentage of our resources were being used to accomplish our mission statement. We asked questions:  “What are we doing? and “Why are we doing it?”  What we discovered was that we were spending a lot of time and money on things that were not effective in accomplishing our mission.  One of two things had to happen.  We either needed to change our mission statement, or we needed to change our activities.  The process was painful, but we were determined.

Our first task was to make sure that our foundational documents were accessible. This was no easy task.  I had to locate documents, such as incorporation papers, by-laws, 501(c)(3) letters, policy and procedures.  I learned there are many Care Net resources that offer practical help in developing or revising  these documents. Having policies isn’t enough; you must actually implement them or they must be revised.

Next, we updated other key documents, including our volunteer handbook and job descriptions. How can a person know if they are doing their job, if the job is not defined for them?  If you are a director that wears many hats, ensuring up-to-date job descriptions and that team members are evaluated based on them, should be included in your job description.  Sometimes the expectations placed upon rural directors are unrealistic. Sometimes they are too vague.  One of my team members and I laughed a little as we revised documents to match best practices (but the truth is, some of what we found wasn’t funny at all).

Back to that first conference I attended: I had made the mistake of comparing our center with larger centers, and measuring our success against their activities and programming.  I had failed to contextualize some of the advice given by workshop speakers and look for how to best apply it to my situation. This  was self-defeating.  Now, I avoid the snare of comparison. 

Statistics are particularly helpful to those of us ministering in rural contexts when we look at percentages and ratios rather than raw numbers. At my rural center, we will probably never be able to say, “300 women received services.”  We don’t even have that many women pregnant in our area! The cost to serve a single client is higher for rural centers because we need the same equipment and the same training as larger ones, yet we tend to serve fewer people overall.  But the price is well worth it because we know that every client deserves the opportunity to make their own best pregnancy decision.  

At my rural center, we determined: we will do everything with excellence, or we will not do it at all. Integrity is not expensive. It is a mindset. 

I have been to many conferences and workshops since that first year, and I am not intimidated or overwhelmed anymore.  I don’t feel pressure to be a “mini-BIG center,” but to effectively serve in my rural community.  We are still a work in progress, but will continue to serve with compassion and excellence as we offer help, hope, and healing to those making challenging  pregnancy decisions.

 ThisKaren Ramber, Heart to Heart post is condensed from Excellent Rural Centers: Making a difference one life at a time, originally published on Care Net’s private, affiliate-access website. 

Karen Ramber, M.Ed., is the Executive Director of Heart to Heart Pregnancy Clinic, a Care Net affiliate in Elk City, Oklahoma.

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