Trial by Fire – The Story of One University President – Leading through the 2007-2008 Global Financial Crisis

“…You had to have people that had capacity of course to do the job, that they had the capacity to be successful, but they also had to have the heart, mind, and will to do that. They had to be team players; they had to be focused on mission, had to be other-focused rather than on themselves…” -Dr. Sandra Gray

When I started this podcast, my intent was to learn about leadership from leaders themselves – people who, as the expression goes, have the t-shirt to prove their status, and today’s guest definitely fits that criteria. Dr. Sandra Gray joins me today to talk about organizational leadership, team leadership, fundraising leadership, and her experience on a nonprofit board.

Dr. Gray served at Asbury University for nearly thirty years, the last twelve of which as the university’s seventeenth president, and she talks about her role as a leader, focusing on concepts such as mission drift, the hiring process and what she looked for in potential candidates, how she approached employees who had overstepped a line and maybe broken a rule, how she operated the art and science of fundraising, what it was like when she first served on a nonprofit board, how big a board should be in her opinion, how a board should function, and so much more!

I am so grateful for Dr. Sandra Gray being such a gracious guest and taking time to chat with me in this episode, and I hope that her wisdom is helpful to our listeners! Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button so that you never miss an episode of Next Gen Nonprofit Leadership, and I also encourage you to share the podcast with a friend who would also be likely to get something out of it!

“I always felt like I was growing myself, and I needed to grow. I wanted to grow. I wanted to be better tomorrow than I am today, and so, I recognized that for them too…” -Dr. Sandra Gray

Time Stamps

[1:07] – Tommy reveals this episode’s guest as Dr. Sandra Gray.

[3:31] – Dr. Gray discusses the concept of mission drift as it relates to the role of a president.

[5:11] – We learn whether or not laying down boundaries was difficult at first for Dr. Gray.

[6:33] – Dr. Gray reflects on a challenge as president and how she overcame it.

[8:15] – Dr. Gray shares with us her first cabinet meeting following the economic recession in 2008.

[9:12] – Dr. Gray discusses the hiring process and what she looked for in candidates.

[10:53] – One of Dr. Gray’s most difficult decisions that she had to make was turning a candidate away because they couldn’t be a good team player.

[12:23] – Dr. Gray elaborates upon what was going on in her heart and mind when she had to turn a candidate away.

[13:17] – Dr. Gray talks about how she dealt with an employee who did something inappropriate or had made a mistake.

[15:18] – Dr. Gray thinks back and shares what the most effective thing was that she did for career development.

[16:30] – Sandra shares with us her biggest lesson about fundraising.

[18:55] – Sandra details one her earliest challenges with fundraising.

[20:30] – Dr. Gray argues that presidents and C.E.O.s have to be willing to do what’s right regardless of who gets credit for it.

[22:34] – We discover how Dr. Gray knew that it was time to retire.

[25:00] – Dr. Gray was determined to work hard for as long as she could but wanted to leave on short notice.

[27:12] – Sandra tells us about her first role on a nonprofit board and what it was like.

[30:08] – Sandra considers risk and its relationship to a faith-based organization.

[32:18] – We learn how Sandra efficiently populated the board.

[33:24] – Dr. Gray makes observations about ideal sizes of a board.

[36:27] – We learn who Sandra considers her mentor to have been.

[37:34] – Sandra laments on how many boards are dysfunctional.

[39:20] – We hear Dr. Gray discuss how she and her board chair tended to communicate.

[41:45] – Dr. Gray asserts that there is no purpose in having an appointed antagonist on a board.

[43:50] – Tommy shifts the conversation toward the Enron scandal in 2001.

[46:35] – Sandra asserts that faith-based organizations have the challenge of wanting to see the best in people.

[47:46] – We learn what Dr. Gray believes a board needs to do for a new president.

“…I think probably my greatest lesson…was that fundraising development really was both an art and a science, and the one who can master a good balance of both the art and the science will be the most successful.” -Dr. Sandra Gray

Links and Resources

JobfitMatters – Website

Peter Greer – Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches


Listen to Next Gen Nonprofit Leadership with Tommy Thomas on:

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | Google Podcasts

Menu