ORAM MARKS 80 YEARS IN BUSINESS
- Hank Goldstein, CEO, The Oram Group, Inc.
Oram was founded by Harold L. Oram in 1940, and has been in continuous operation since, making us one of the oldest firms of its type: management consultants to nonprofit organizations. Originally established to help nonprofits in their fundraising, Harold Oram pioneered direct mail campaigns for progressive organizations. Many of today’s best known and robust civil rights, environmental, health and educational institutions were among our clients. The ACLU, naacp-Legal Defense Fund (now just LDF), Sierra Club, NRDC, World Wildlife Fund, and Planned Parenthood are just a few (among many hundreds) of early clients, still around, still doing exemplary work.
Over time, our services expanded – we developed competencies in every aspect of fund development: special events, estate giving, major gifts, corporate and foundation grant-writing, communications, marketing, earned income, etc. As growth continued, we took on broader issues of nonprofit management: e.g., strategic planning, governance and board development, best practices, program effectiveness and executive recruitment. I joined Oram in 1964. I worked at first on a capital campaign for Hampton Institute (now University), and in 1967 was assigned other clients. I began to move up in the company, bringing in several clients on my own, and always seeking to broaden the services we could offer.
In 1978, Harold was ailing. Fortuitously, Stewart Rawlings Mott, an heir to GM, and Robert Wallace Gilmore, who had married into the Publishers Clearing House family, stepped in – great men Harold and I had worked with through our civil rights, population and peace movement clients – and they financed my purchase of the company. Oram died in 1990. In 1992, with around 30 employees, the company broke up in the acrimonious departure of three colleagues in a dispute over money. Nothing new there. But by virtue of an artful non-compete agreement each had to buy out their client contracts from Oram, which they did. I was left with the buyout proceeds, a half dozen of my own clients, and of course, I owned the Oram name and the brand.
I dithered for a few months weighing the upsides and downsides of rebuilding the company, or just hammering on, as a much smaller entity. Given that overhead and payroll are killers, and that if one serves 501-c-3s, profit margins are razor thin anyway, I opted to continue as a ‘boutique’. I’ve done that ever since, with never more than a few employees, doing better than when I had to meet a payroll of $100-150,000 a month. I developed a strong, flexible network of specialists upon whom I still call for whatever services a client might require. As I aged, younger professionals moved up; my universe of contacts and new business slowed. I embraced the inevitable.
Though we no longer actively seek paid work, it finds me, and actually, it is quite liberating not to be hunting all the time, or even at all. In late 2018, I set up a pro bono consulting practice to serve smaller nonprofits (<$1 million operating budget) who cannot pay the market rates my competitors and I charge. This keeps me in the game and is a lot of fun. Any 501-c-3 can apply.