Thomas M. Watson

Thomas Watson Non-profit Business Management Consultant Rural Support Partners

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Owner / Managing Director

Thomas is a social entrepreneur with 25+ years of experience in nonprofit and business management, community economic development, network building, and philanthropy. Before founding RSP, Thomas served as the Director of the Grassroots Support Project at the Southern Rural Development Initiative (SRDI) where he worked to deepen the impact and scale of grassroots economic development organizations in the Deep South and Central Appalachia.

Thomas came to SRDI after working as a Senior Program Consultant / National Program Officer focused on grassroots leadership and social enterprise development within The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Making Connection Initiative—a 10-year, $500 million initiative to create better outcomes for kids living in 22 low-income cities across the United States.

As the co-founder and co-director of the Center for Participatory Change, he worked hand-in-hand with grassroots groups across Western North Carolina to create economic opportunities and increase equity for rural and marginalized people. Thomas’ first community organizing job was in Minneapolis, MN where he organized public housing tenants, churches, and unhoused individuals toward a city-wide effort to increase affordable housing, reduce homelessness, and limit gentrification.

During his tenure at RSP, Thomas has served on the Ford Foundations Rural Wealth Creation Management Team and participated as a strategy team member for the Kate B. Reynolds Foundation’s Healthy Place NC Initiative—a 10-year, $100 million initiative to improve the health and overall quality of life for people in rural NC. He currently sits on the Community Investment Council of the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank and recently rotated off the Board of Directors for Invest Appalachia.

After growing up in Galax, Virginia, Thomas’ early career included being a factory worker, alternative school teacher, and a banker. He holds a Master of Social Work degree from UNC-Chapel Hill, where he completed internships with Grassroots Leadership and the Highlander Center. He’s also a graduate of Guilford College in Greensboro, NC and Wytheville Community College in Wytheville, VA, where he studied business management and finance.

Thomas is a management consultant who will help you deepen your impact and broaden your scale. Contact Thomas via email.

Areas of Expertise

Community Economic Development * Business & Nonprofit Management * Philanthropy * Social Enterprise * Value Chains * Network Development & Evaluation * Theory of Change * Model Development * Participatory Evaluation * Training & Coaching * Facilitation * Measurement Systems * Strategic Planning * Executive Transitions


Rural Support Partners Services

We are a nationally recognized management consulting firm with deep expertise in nonprofit management, social-enterprise development, networks, philanthropy, and rural community economic development. We work with high-impact leaders, non-profit anchor organizations, foundations, social enterprises, and networks that are working to bring about innovative forms of large-scale community and economic change in rural areas. Our services are based on a strong commitment to rural communities and result in increased organizational effectiveness, improved strategies, more collaborative efforts, and deeper impact.


We specialize in anchor organizations, grantmakers, and enterprises whose work advances complex community and economic change. Our services are built on decades of nonprofit and business management experience, employ the latest innovations from around the world, and remain grounded in what it takes to do effective change work in rural places. We ask powerful questions, listen deeply, and tailor our services to maximize organizational impact. The results of our management, planning, and strategy focused work includes increased organizational effectiveness, deeper community impact, and more resilient organizations. Core services include:

Organizational Assessment, Problem Solving, Consultation
Executive Transitions
Strategic Planning & Theory of Change
Program / Project / Initiative Development
Evaluation and Measurement Systems
Social Enterprise Business Planning and Theory of Change
Thought-Partnership and Coaching


We have over 25 years of hands-on experience in building, growing, and managing rural networks, collaborations, and teams. From organizational staff teams, to regional collective impact efforts, to national networks, we help our clients cultivate the necessary relationships and trust, clarify group norms and values, define their collective focus, develop plans, and build the right management structure to get collaborative work done. Core services include:

Network and Team Assessment, Problem Solving, Consultation
Team Building
Development of Partnerships and Collaborations
Strategic Planning and Theory of Change for Networks
Network Evaluation and Measurement Systems
Backbone Support / Network Management Training and Coaching
Thought-Partner for those who fund or support collaborations and networks


Our experienced facilitation team has decades of experience in event planning and design, group process, and participatory facilitation. With this experience, we help groups learn from one another, find opportunities, uncover solutions to sticky problems, and make collective decisions. Our events are engaging, productive, and produce deeper relationships, shared knowledge, and greater alignment among the participants. Core services include:

Design, Facilitation & Management of:

Think Tanks / Problem Solving Retreats
Conferences, Gatherings, Events
Group and Staff Retreats


We are driven to capture and spread the lessons, innovation, models, and tools that arise from rural development work. Though participatory research and evaluation methods, we help clients understand their impact, reflect-on their efforts, and incorporate lessons learned into their future work. We also work to unearth, document, and share the innovation and proven practices that arise across RSP’s body of work—making us smarter consultants and helping to advance the broader field rural development. Core services include:

Participatory Research
Tool and Model Capture and Development
Workshops and Training
White Papers
Thought Partnership
Knowledge Capture / Training / Field building (white papers, thought partnership)

Our work starts by listening deeply to the needs, problems, and desires of our clients and partners. We pinpoint the leverage points to improve effectiveness, increase resiliency, and deepen impact. We tailor a suite of services to advance your project.