Alec Hill – Finding Gold in Manure

“When we realize there’s a gap between what we project and who we are, we can do one of two things. We can honestly admit that, or we can fake it.  And faking it really takes a toll.” -Alec Hill

[00:00:00] Alec Hill: There is something remarkable when you put it on paper, how you create a distance from yourself. It objectifies it, and you’re able to stay away from it a little bit. And this has been shown in research out of the University of Texas. So, I’m a real believer in journaling. 

It has been a constant and continues to be a regular outlet for me with my pain, with my lamentations, with my anger. And it releases me. I don’t know. It’s just been a discipline for what now – 50 plus years and it’s one of God’s gifts to me. 


[00:00:31] Tommy Thomas: Our guest today is Alec Hill, the President Emeritus of InterVarsity USA.  For regular listeners, you may remember Alec from Episodes 18 and 19 where he and a former board chair at InterVarsity discussed the CEO/ Board Chair working relationship.

Alec was President of InterVarsity for 14 years before retiring for health-related reasons. When I recruited him to be the President of InterVarsity, he was the Dean of the School of Business and Economics at Seattle Pacific University. Alec took his law degree from the University of Washington. 

Alec, welcome back to NextGen Nonprofit Leadership.

[00:01:06] Alec Hill: It’s always good to be with you. 

[00:01:10] Tommy Thomas:  Episodes 18 and 19. Those seem like a long time ago.

[00:01:14] Alec Hill: To you, time is, it has a different clip for me, but yeah, for you it’s, you’re up to a hundred something now. 

[00:01:20] Tommy Thomas: We’ll, yeah, I think this we’ll be 92 or 93, and yeah, we’ll hit Episode 100 sometime in early August.

I was trying to remember that quote. That guy told me one time about the early episodes. He said, “The bad news was they probably wouldn’t be very good, but the good news was you won’t have very many listeners then either”. So, I don’t know, some of the early episodes might have been like that.

Thank you for coming back. I read the article that you posted on the Christian Leadership Alliance Blog and I was intrigued by it knowing a little bit about your history there, I thought I have to get Alec back.  Maybe take us into that. 

As I remember, the name of the article was Finding Gold in Manure.

[00:01:59] Alec Hill: Yeah, so the image is when we lose a wedding ring down the sink, we dive in, and even if it goes down the toilet, we go in because the ring is so valuable. So the metaphor is, as leaders, when we go through really bad experiences, I mean we think back on the two or three worst experiences we’ve ever had as leaders, whether they are our fault or not.

And the temptation is just to let the ring go. And not dive, do the dive. But what I’ve learned is that when you go and you find the ring maybe 80% of its draws are manure, but 20% of it is pure gold. And so often in our worst moments in the suffering that we have we find great meaning.

And if we don’t learn those lessons at that point in time they’ll come back and bite us again. 

“If we pause and reflect long enough, pain is a great teacher. Our characters can be transformed more through a day of suffering than a month of study”

[00:02:42] Tommy Thomas: I think one of your quotes was “If we pause and reflect long enough, pain is a great teacher. Our characters can be transformed more through a day of suffering than a month of study”

[00:02:53] Alec Hill:   Yeah, I think that’s really true. And I say that, I wrote that as an academic, right? So, I believe in study, but clearly if we, you by the way, you can learn poorly from pain if pain, if you reacted adversely to it. If you deny it. Or if you’re triumphal in some ways over it, if you don’t walk right through it head on it’s a totally negative experience.

But if you actually can redeem the pain is awful. Pain sucks. I’m a two-time cancer survivor, including a bone marrow transplant. I know about pain. So pain is no fun. And likewise, leadership failures. And when people accuse you of being incompetent or immoral that’s no fun.

But there’s a side to this where you have to learn the lessons from that, and then you become a better person and a better leader. 

[00:03:37] Tommy Thomas: So why do you think it’s so hard for us to reflect on past painful situations? 

[00:03:43] Alec Hill: Oh my goodness. I think we hate pain. We’re wired to hate pain. Part of my bone marrow transplant was a spinal tap, and I was reflecting on that the other day.

And a spinal tap is one of the worst procedures you can ever have, right? They’re going in through your back with a needle and they’re trying not to hit nerves, and of course they do. I don’t want to think about the spinal tap, but what the spinal tap told the doctors was that I didn’t have certain conditions so they were able to go ahead with the treatment.

And it was a positive treatment with a lot of pain. And I think, again, that’s not a bad image here for these. And what I would’ve asked our listeners to think about is the one worst experience you’ve ever had as a leader where everything went wrong, where everybody thought you were an idiot or an immoral person.

And they lost confidence in you when you came in a room you had, they looked like they had knives out and they were suspicious of you. And that’s the moment that we want to capture in this podcast. 

[00:04:33] Tommy Thomas: But take me back to some of the other painful experiences. A man with as much leadership as you’ve had, both at Seattle Pacific and InterVarsity no doubt has had several painful days. 

[00:04:44] Alec Hill: Two of my worst moments or months, or even in one case years, one involved, and this is a common one, hiring someone to my senior team who didn’t work out.

And the person was popular and well liked and I had to let the person go. And then when I let the person go, I couldn’t tell all my reasons for doing so when people ask questions. So, you look like you are incompetent in making the hire. You are incompetent in making the dismissal. You’re being disingenuous because you’re withholding information that few people feel they have the right to have.

And you feel like a failure on all counts. I think that particular situation lasted for several months when I just was underwater. And people again lost confidence in me. I think the second one was a more dramatic one, and it involved more people conflict between a senior leader and a director below a report to that person and it blew up.

It involved race and gender and all sorts of things, and I didn’t particularly handle it well in terms of how I processed and dealt with it, and that pain lasted for a year and a half. And my sort of, I think the sense of my incompetence and how I handled it I felt acutely was the first time I’d gone to see a counselor.

I was having dreams. It was one of those completely underwater experiences. That was worse than a spinal tap. If I could put it that way. It was worse. And feeling responsible for allowing people to get hurt that if I’d handled things differently there would’ve been a lot less hurt in other people’s lives.

And this is what, 15-20 years ago. I still feel this acutely to this day. So again, my hypothesis, Tommy, is that every leader, every senior leader has a situation like that, that when you ask them what is the main pain point, the worst moment of your leadership time, they have one of these.

And that’s the kind of situation where you. Your temptation is just to bar the door. Never think about it, just deny it. You don’t deny it, but you just relegate it. But the thing is, I learned a lot about myself both good and bad. Through that, I learned about the positives, I learned about my resilience.

I came to work every day when I felt like people were extremely doubting me. And I didn’t know I had that kind of resilience. So that’s one positive aspect of it. 

[00:07:00] Tommy Thomas: So you mentioned you went to the counselor for the first time. Was that a hard thing to do to make that appointment?

[00:07:05] Alec Hill:  No, I’m not proud about, I don’t, I’m not macho in the sense that I wouldn’t go to a counselor. I just never felt that kind of need. But I was so far out of it and self-doubting. The disequilibrium in my life was so great. I didn’t even know where the ground was, and so I just needed someone to tell me I wasn’t crazy, right?

And to assure me that this will over time improve because I think when we get into a hopeless spiral as leaders and this is why, as Tommy, you’ve seen people quit. You’ve seen people fired there. It’s dark. It’s just really dark and all of the lightness when you first take a job in senior leadership, you go, why in the world did I ever do this?

There’s so much pain associated with these senior roles of vicarious suffering for the community. Not to mention my own mistakes that you go, this is overwhelming. 


[00:07:59] Tommy Thomas: I read a lot of Joyce Meyers. She’s a good writer. And she talks about, in one of her articles, something called the Judas Kiss Test, the test of being betrayed by friends we have loved, respected, and trusted. I guess my hunch is that most people in leadership, who’ve been there very long, have had an experience like this. Have you had one of those and how did you deal with it? 

[00:08:20] Alec Hill: I don’t know if betrayal is the word, I would use the word undercut.

I have been undercut and it is a horrible feeling with someone who you reasonably expect loyalty. And a common sort of friend who goes around you to do something that is intentionally harmful. It’s a smack of ice. Remember the ads where they would put the ice buckets on people and they would, the ice shower or whatever it was?

That’s one of those experiences. So, I think that’s another example of the kind of pain that leaders experience. When who you thought was a friend turns out to be someone who’s out to get you. And it’s a horrible, lonely spot. And I think, I’m reading about David and King Saul now, and of course, Saul threw spears at David, he did all sorts of things, when David had done nothing wrong.

And how did David handle that without killing Saul when he had the opportunity or taking revenge? That’s what we, and that’s the Christ-like characteristic of not being naive and saying it isn’t there and not confronting it. We have to do those things, but not taking, not seeking vengeance or vindication.

I think when we seek our own vindication, where we run into trouble that’s the Lord’s job, but we have to be resilient. We have to call it out. We have to not pretend it’s not there. But when you don’t, you can’t, when you get in a hole, when somebody betrays you, you can’t really vindicate yourself.

And that’s really hard. Others have to do that for you, and the Lord has to do it. I had one situation. I’m shifting gears. I’m just thinking about where my vindication probably took five years and it wasn’t complete. But I did see some measure of vindication. I had one person who told me that I was a pretty bad person and a bad leader.

Come back several years later and say that she understood why I did what I did. And the story on the street had changed during those years, but it was a very slow. I wanted to fix it a lot quicker. Someone explained it’s like when you hit a feather pillow and it explodes and goes all over the place.

It’s like trying to, when your reputation is out, you’re trying to recapture all those feathers and you can’t, and if you’re a control person, it’s really hard. 

[00:10:36] Tommy Thomas: You write a lot. Your articles are many, you have published two books.  But do you journal much about your inner feelings and if so, what have you learned from that? 

[00:10:46] Alec Hill: It’s funny you should ask because I am now transcribing all my journals from when I was 17 years old, so I’m now up to age 29 in transcribing. There were those dark nights of the soul where I would wake up at 2:00 AM and I would journal for two hours.

And there is something remarkable when you put it on paper, how you create a distance from yourself. It objectifies it, and you’re able to stay away from it a little bit. And this has been shown in research out of the University of Texas. 

So, I’m a real believer in journaling. It has been a constant and continues to be a regular outlet for me with my pain, with my lamentations, with my anger. And it releases me. I don’t know. It’s just been a discipline for what now – 50 plus years and it’s one of God’s gifts to me. 

[00:11:34] Tommy Thomas: I’ve been a journaler if that’s the word you use for it – maybe not 50 years, but a long time. And this morning I woke up with a couple of dissonant thoughts and I just, I went to my journal and I said, I don’t feel much like journaling today, and then I went through those and yeah, after about 30 minutes, I came away with maybe a little bit of distance and maybe a feeling that this is not so bad after all

[00:12:00] Alec Hill: Getting back to our theme of gold and manure, one of the things that journaling does is it makes you crystallize your thoughts and put them in writing, and that’s where you really learn your gold is the goal.

Gold is by reflection. If we don’t reflect and so many leaders aren’t reflective, I’m by temperament. I’m a future-oriented person. So, reflection is hard for me, and part of the reason I journal is because it compels me. To reflect and what are the lessons learned from this last experience?

[00:12:27] Tommy Thomas: I was reading, I don’t know if it was a blog or what, by Bob Haskins, the President of One Hope down in Florida. And he wrote, surround yourself with people who know you better than you know yourself and will tell you the truth out of love. This is how we grow. Is the digging in manure, is that a solo act, or is that a cadre or a cohort of friends?

[00:12:50] Alec Hill:  It’s a very small group of trusted friends. And I’d say it’s both. I do think you have to do the solo reflection as we were just talking about journaling, but clearly. I had a chief of staff who I gave total permission after every meeting, after every event, after every conference, after every conversation to tell me what he heard.

And he would be quite candid with me. And it was painful. And also, I had a number two person who was my COO, and he had the same green light. And what I found is that they would often tell me things that I did or didn’t do in a meeting, and I didn’t always agree with them, but I gave them the green light.

So, in a sense, I was increasing my level of pain and discomfort by telling these two that they could say to me whatever they saw, but I trusted them that much. And then there was a third person, a VP who I also trusted at that level. And I think you can only take so much beating on your bodies, like being boxed.

It looks like being a boxer and some of these are poundings you take when you open yourself up. But the right chastisement from a friend who’s loyal and trusting is again the pathway to growth. But you can only take so much of it. I think there it’s a limited dose and that’s what has to be a limited number of people, that kind of vulnerability.

[00:14:03] Tommy Thomas:  I’m a big fan of Nicky Gumball and his Bible in One Year. I’m in that maybe not every day but fairly regular. And recently, one of his comments was, 

“Confrontation is not something that I find easy. It is crucial to find the right approach, the right words for the job, or to use a golfing analogy, it’s like the skill of knowing which club to use. Those who are skilled at confrontation have a great variety of approaches and words and know when and how to use the appropriate one”.

What have you learned about confrontation through your many years in senior leadership?

[00:14:41] Alec Hill: First of all, I’m intuitively lousy at it. I’m an angiogram three. I like to be liked. I think that I can fix every situation with charm and with compassion and pastoral skills, and when it comes to really confronting people, I had a VP who was fabulous at it, and I learned a lot from Jim.  It was really funny.  Jim had people who he corrected all the time who loved him. And I asked him How do you do that? How do you speak that kind of truth? It was because he did love them, but he also wouldn’t drop bombs on them. He would chunk it out and give them criticism or confrontation in the short term.

Now, I will say this, I had a bone marrow transplant eight years ago, and I am much better at confrontation now than I was before. And I think in part what the cancer taught me was life is short. Be more candid, be blunter. And my wife looks at me sometimes and she goes, is this really you?

Cancer changed me for the good in this regard in that I’m a better confronter and I’m less worried about what people think of me.

Because cancer changed me for the good in this regard in that I’m a better confronter and I’m less worried about what people think of me. Maybe the part of that’s aging too, and I don’t have a position that I have to defend anymore. I think the other thing is I had to let my reputation and sense of competence, my public competence die when I was at InterVarsity and that’s liberating.

It sounds crazy to think that when you give up your reputation, it’s going to be freeing, but I think that process took 20 years.


[00:16:05] Tommy Thomas:  I know you retired from InterVarsity for health reasons. Did you find when, and I’m sure that was foremost in your mind, but I always like to ask people who’ve been longtime successful leaders, was much of your identity tied up in being the president of InterVarsity?

[00:16:22] Alec Hill: You used the word, successful leader. I’d say I have a mixed report card, to be honest. So that’s the first thing I just want to say. This is where the cancer’s been a real gift. So, when you almost die, when you’re expected to die, you get your identity detached from your role real quickly.

And when I left, I was diagnosed, and I was gone six weeks later. And then I had a year of isolation to think about all these things. But I do think I was always aware in the 14 years at InterVarsity that my identity could be too wrapped up. So, I consciously tried to work on that issue.

It was something I named, and I recognized it as a great temptation. So, I wasn’t perfect, but I think I always recognized that I had been given the baton for a period of time. I would pass it off. It wasn’t proprietary and this is what I did, not who, what, not who I am, not who I was.

And that was liberating, but the claw of the temptation kept reaching up to grab me. I will say this, Tommy, I was surprised when I left after 14 years with the cancer, how little the identity trapped me. I didn’t have this longing for the perks of the job. I didn’t worry when people didn’t recognize me.

I think I’m so grateful to be alive. So, I think that was the gift of the cancer, right? I didn’t have what a lot of leaders have when they leave, that huge identity crisis. I was trying to live, and so it just, it went underground. It didn’t seem very important.

And then by the time I came out, I had a different identity. Yeah so, the identity question’s a tricky one for me because what would I have been like without the cancer? I don’t know. 

[00:17:59] Tommy Thomas: Yeah. Now I was talking recently to a pastor of a huge megachurch, and he retired maybe three years ago.  From all appearances, it seems to have been a very successful transition, and this guy has always been, in my mind, the epitome of humility, and yet he was candid enough to say, Tommy, it is disappointing that the phone doesn’t ring as much anymore. That he said that, and I just, I was taken back.

I thought, wow, this guy I would’ve thought if anybody probably had mastered that it would’ve been him, and yet he said, the phone doesn’t ring anymore. And every now and then, that kind of bothers me. 

[00:18:36] Alec Hill: Back to the gold image here. I get this bone marrow cancer and I’m in isolation.

I come off disability after six months, but I can’t be with people because I’m in isolation for another six months. The COO who’s acting is the interim president, Jim and I agreed I would be a mentor for six months and then I could do a real job. During those six months, I had 12-14 staff from InterVarsity I was talking with monthly.

And I discovered this pastoral sense of who I am. And now that’s seven years ago. And so, I never got the sense of being, I worked really hard on what my new purpose was. It was the next generation of leaders, and it was investing in them. The phone rings all the time, but it’s because I have, I think largely because I proactively put myself out as a mentor and the richness of these really.

I have one guy who I’ve been with for six, seven years now who just sent me a Mariners jersey. Edgar Martinez is a gift for the year. Totally unexpected because we’re both baseball fans and I just am thankful for the depth of these friendships. And then other opportunities have opened up as well.

So, I do think that this is back where near death when you face mortality, there’s a sense of which everything is a grace. And everything is a gift. So, I have a deeply appreciative sense and I don’t feel, the glass is more than half full. It’s full. It’s a full glass. 


[00:19:54] Tommy Thomas: Yeah. I want to switch to something maybe a little more global.

A study by the UK Finance and Mental Health First Aid Department in England said that 83% of the City of London Financial Services employees, so they’ve considered changing jobs due to stress on their mental health. 83%. How prevalent do you think that might be in the nonprofit sector in the United States?

[00:20:19] Alec Hill: I think it’s very prevalent. I think when you have undoable missions, which you know, any mission’s worth of salt is huge, it’s going to transform the world. And you combine that with limited resources, which nonprofits have much more than for-profits, right? You have little money. And you have lots of responsibility which is a pivot point for depression, for feeling like a failure.

When you throw into that Covid and the fragility of this new generation coming up in terms of anxiety and mental health, and I actually just wrote a piece on my own anxiety issues I think it’s a recipe for problems within nonprofits. And I think generationally, each generation approaches it differently.

You have the stoic generation, then you have, as I say, the more the people want to talk about it all the time, it’s not going to go away. This is a real problem. 

[00:21:11] Tommy Thomas: Here’s a Mother Teresa quote, I’d like to respond to. Mother Teresa said, I’m not called to be successful, but I’m called to be faithful.

[00:21:20] Alec Hill:  Amen. And we can’t guarantee the outcomes. We can guarantee the process. I do think though, when she talks about being faithful, another word for that is accountable. And so accountable, just to be faithful doesn’t mean that we’re freelancing it or that we cannot think about the consequences of our actions.

We are accountable but again, we are accountable to be faithful in what we do, not in exactly what happens. And I think as I reflect back, Tommy, I’m a real strategic planner and I love putting out goals and going for them. I still do, but I’m softening on this one. I think that I will say this, that I think what we said is our strategic plans were always dynamic.

And that we would, by the time we were done, about a third of it would be rewritten. The mistake a lot of groups make with strategic plans is they’re like cement. You’re relying on the Lord for wisdom. When you write them up, you’re dreaming about what can be, and then you have to hold them real loosely and you have to constantly change them and edit them.

I think the sense of being faithful, that context is we’re going to work together towards this common mission in these four or five areas for the next three or four years. But we don’t know how it’s going to turn out. Let me give you an example. At one point, InterVarsity Press, we had hoped that it would grow by X percent and then we hit the great recession of 2009 and there was no way we were even going to get back to zero, right?

Because the publishing industry was underwater. We rewrote the goal. And the goal went down, I’m going to guess 35, 40% and we hit that goal well because of the external environment, because the way you don’t control, you have to. So, for us, that was a feel-good, even though it was a loss.  Rather than that, we failed.

[00:23:06] Tommy Thomas: It’s been said that we probably learned more from our mistakes and our successes. If that’s the truth, why? Why are most of us so afraid to make a mistake?

[00:23:13] Alec Hill: I’ll go back to the spinal tap. We hate pain. And, this false self-truth, back to identity, that we want to project a certain image of who we are and how competent we are, especially people like me.

When we realize there’s a gap between what we project and who we are, we can do one of two things. We can honestly admit that, or we can fake it.  And faking it really takes a toll. You’ve seen this, I’ve seen this. Leaders who are faking it are living on the edge. They become unkind, they become self-protective, they become vindictive, and they don’t even recognize themselves in the mirror.

So it’s really hard to remain truly human as a senior leader if you’re a perfectionist, if you’re a control freak, if you value your public image, all those things have to die. And it is a very, and the crucifixion of those is very painful and it’s ongoing. 

[00:24:13] Tommy Thomas: If you could go back in time and tell a younger version of yourself one thing, what would you say?

[00:24:19] Alec Hill: I think I would say care less about what other people think. And back, this is a common theme here. Don’t think so highly of yourself. Relax. Enjoy the ride. I think future-oriented people like me tend to miss the aha moments and the savoring of moments.

And I’ve always been pretty relational, but I’m so goal-oriented and so project oriented that I think that I miss a lot of the magic and the splendor along the way. And again, cancer taught me to slow down and savor. One of the things I do daily, pretty much daily is there’s a, near us, there’s a city park and I’ll go over, it’s a five-minute walk and there’s a grove of cedar trees and I just go through that cedar tree and I just stop and smell them and I touch them and I just have this sort of sense of God as creator and father.

And so I think that’s a new wrinkle for me, because I’ve always been in such a hurry. 

[00:25:15] Tommy Thomas: So, what are you most excited about in life right now?

[00:25:17] Alec Hill:  Grandchildren, of course. I’ve got three of them and they’re just wonderful. I think I just turned 70 and when I first had the bone marrow transplant, I didn’t know that I would live to 70 and now I’m thinking I could live to 80.

The whole journey of full-body radiation chemo has taken some years off my life. So, there’s this sense of living in a cycle of appreciation and joy and just being relatively healthy. That’s also a real joy. I had two new hips put in a couple of years ago because the full-body radiation killed off some of the blood flow to the head of the joint, and I’m going to have more of those coming up.

But I think the awe of my wife, having been married for 45 years, and grandkids.  I’d say little kids just light up. Every they’re like little energy buckets. They’re like batteries. And so even though I come back with a sore back and bent knees and all that stuff, it’s just wonderful.

So I think that’s what I’m most excited about. And I think the other part on the professional side is I’m not retired. I’m working 30 hours plus a week. And one of the big changes in my life, Tommy, has been from having one activity, which is whether it’s being a dean or regional director for world relief or doing InterVarsity to having this portfolio of activities.

And so I’ve got a lot of buckets. I have multiple bosses. I teach at Regent College in Canada. I write for Tammy Heim.  There were boards in the past, and so the challenge now is, how do you take all of these activities and make them flow so that they work?

And I will say this, everything I do is pretty much, it’s fun, wonderful, mission-driven stuff. But what I do miss is doing a mission together with a team. And I think that’s the one thing about leading is that, you see a goal, you’re doing a mission and you’re doing it with a group of people you love.

That is really a special time. But that time has passed for me. I’ve accepted that, but that’s probably the one thing I do miss. 

[00:27:23] Tommy Thomas: What’s the best piece of advice anyone’s ever given you?

[00:27:25] Alec Hill: I thought about this one. I think that freedom comes through surrender. And I think that this is counterintuitive, but that when we become slaves of Christ, we truly find our freedom because he’s a good master.

And for someone like me who likes to maintain control, it’s a very hard lesson to learn. But when I do it well, there is such lightness because I’m not carrying the world. I’m not a false Messiah carrying around all the problems of the world and being responsible for them. I’m actually surrendering to the true Messiah who carries the world on his shoulders and I’m under his wings, and therefore I’m in the right flow, doing the right things, but I’m not catching all the headwinds like he does.

All the crap, all the hell that he caught through the, through his who he was. And that is a really good place to be.

[00:28:25] Tommy Thomas: If you were a judge or I guess one of the wealthy people on the Shark Tank and nonprofit people came to you with their ideas.  What have you got to know before you invest?

[00:28:35] Alec Hill:  I would ask them if they have a coherent strategic plan. 

I would ask them to describe their last executive director transition. 

I would ask them do they do an annual evaluation of the executive director regularly, consistently? 

I would ask them, are all your trustees giving?

And describe how you handled your latest crisis. What was the crisis and how’d you handle it? Now hopefully they’d be honest and tell me, but, if they came up with a sense that they weren’t doing these things well, they were sloppy. We did a review a couple of years ago, the strategic plan.

Yeah. We’ve got five or six ideas on a sheet of paper. I’m not going to invest in that nonprofit. So I think there are basic principles of I would, I’d also ask, do you regularly survey your employees? And what do you do with that feedback? So what kind of feedback loops do you have?

How are you improving yourself as an organization, as a ministry, as a board? And if they don’t, if they look at you blankly, then you just go, so I’d ask some governance questions as well. But you’re trying to get to culture and what they’re really like in their default manner.

[00:29:45] Tommy Thomas: If you were creating a dashboard that at a glance would give you some indication of the health of a nonprofit what would some of the gauges be?

[00:29:53] Alec Hill: This is a great question. I think the first thing is, are there metrics tied to their strategic plan?

And it sounds like a really simple thing, but it’s amazing how many metrics are in these dashboards that aren’t directly tied to the strategic plan goals. So that’s a real basic one. My advice is if you have a board that’s used a certain dashboard for years, but you have a new strategic plan, you’re going to have to rewrite your dashboard.

And that people, sometimes they don’t, they disconnect the two. I think I would want to know is do you have three-plus months of reserves and finances? I think that’s a big one, and I would want to try now, once you get over six months, it gets a little way too much. But if you’re under three months in your reserves, there’s instability and a scarcity mentality that can set in that’s unhealthy.

I want to look at debt, if there’s a line of credit. I think that, obviously the finances, but those are a couple of particular things. And then I mentioned this in your earlier question, but I think the employee satisfaction survey, I, as a board member, I’d really want to look to see that there’s an annual regular and I want to see what, how the employees are feeling about the organization.

Boards can be too connected with the organization, but they can also be disconnected. And I think the evaluation of the executive director and employee satisfaction surveys give you a sense of the health of it. I think it should be on the President, the Executive Director’s plate to be looking at that employee satisfaction survey and making changes and improving year by year. 


[00:31:23] Tommy Thomas: I’m grateful to Alec Hill for being our guest today. His candor and transparency are always encouraging to me. As he mentioned in the podcast, Alec is a frequent contributor to the Christian Leadership Alliance Blog. He’s also a published author of two books. Living in Bonus Time: Surviving Cancer, Finding New Purpose and Just Business: Christian Ethics for the Marketplace. We have several links to Alec’s writing in the show notes. 

Thank you for joining us today. If you are a first-time listener, I hope you will subscribe and become a regular. You can find links to all the episodes at our website:  

If there are topics you’d like for me to explore my email address is [email protected].   Word of mouth has been identified as the most valuable form of marketing.   Surveys tell us that consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all other forms of advertising. 

If you’ve heard something today that’s worth passing on, please share it with others. You’re already helping me make something special for the next generation of nonprofit leaders. I’ll be back next week with a new episode. Until then stay the course on our journey to help make the nonprofit sector more effective and sustainable. 

“If we pause and reflect long enough, pain is a great teacher. Our characters can be transformed more through a day of suffering than a month of study.” -Alec Hill

Links and Resources

JobfitMatters Website

Next Gen Nonprofit Leadership with Tommy Thomas

Living in Bonus Time: Surviving Cancer, Finding New Purpose

Just Business: Christian Ethics for the Marketplace

InterVarsity Press – Alec Hill

The Huffington Post – Alec Hill


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