EP 25: Should You Invest More In Leaders & Less In Programs? A Conversation with Jason Janz

June 29, 2023

Show Notes

The demands of leadership in the nonprofit sector are overwhelming right now. 

The need to scale, serve, and make real impact can all too easily lead to neglecting personal wellbeing. 

Oftentimes we seem to be faced with the difficult decision of choosing between investing in program development or investing in our staff.

It’s time to consider the powerful shift that occurs when your staff becomes a central part of your transformative journey.

In this episode of THRIVERS, Tucker, Sarah, and their guest Jason Janz,  the co-founder of the nonprofit organization CrossPurpose,  propose a bold shift in focus — investing more in leaders and less in programs.

Throughout the discussion, they explore the profound impact this shift can have on the health of an organization and the potential for transformational outcomes. 

They delve into the idea of nurturing a leadership team that embodies the transformative values of an organization and prioritizes their own growth and development as a path to achieving greater impact.

Key takeaways from the conversation include:

  • The significance of letting go of a scarcity mindset that inhibits investment in leadership growth
  • Recognizing the potential that lies in prioritizing your leaders over expanding program activities
  • Challenging the conventional wisdom with a radical idea: “Your staff matters more than those you serve”
  • Realizing the power of orienting your team towards your transformative outcome, rather than being consumed by everyday activities
  • The profound impact of personal transformation on your leadership style and overall team dynamics

Join us for this insightful episode as we navigate the challenging but rewarding landscape of transformative leadership in the nonprofit sector.

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Transcript

Tucker: Hey, welcome to THRIVERS: Nonprofit Leadership for the Next Normal. I am your host, Tucker Wannamaker, the CEO of THRIVE IMPACT. Our mission is to solve nonprofit leader burnout and to right some of the injustices that are happening against nonprofit leaders because burnout is the enemy of creating positive change, and we wanna connect you with impactful mission-driven leaders and ideas so that you can learn to thrive in today’s nonprofit landscape. I’m joined today as always by my co-host Sarah Fanslau our Chief of Impact. Sarah, it’s good to be with you here this morning.
Sarah: Great to be here.
Tucker: We’re having some fun already this morning, I’ve noticed. We’re laughing about all the things. And today’s topic and today’s guest are ones that are close to my heart.
The guest today is a gentleman named Jason Janz. Jason, I’m gonna introduce you here in just a moment. And the topic is one that’s really near and dear to our collective mission, which is around solving nonprofit leader burnout, and particularly around the investing in nonprofit leaders themselves.
And when I said, even in the intro around righting some of the injustices happening against nonprofit leaders, this is one of them is the significant lack of investment in nonprofit leadership. Sarah, I know you have some data or some thoughts around this, but Sarah, curious, what you’ve seen in the space when it comes to this particular topic.
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely Tucker. There is a lot of data that speaks to this challenge. A study from earlier was around 2013, found that around 73% of nonprofit leaders have indicated that they don’t have the resources. To develop their leadership. And you may say, okay, that’s pretty bad, but it’s really bad when you compare it with opportunities for folks who are in the private sector.
So private sector companies spend on average four times as much on professional development as nonprofit organizations every year. Every single year. And this under investment is caused by a lot of things, but a lot of it is just about the dollars. Nonprofit organizations don’t have the dollars in many places to do this leadership development.
And part of it is about the funding landscape. So less than 1% of foundation dollars go to developing the nonprofit workforce. There’s just a lot of issues here and the underinvestment really causes significant challenges. The lack of development and growth opportunities ranked second on the list of concerns next to salary in terms of retention-related challenges for folks in the nonprofit sector.
If we wanna have a thriving sector and we want talented people to come and stay, we’ve gotta fix this problem.
Tucker: Yeah, that’s a big issue. It’s a big issue. And I’ve noticed too, some of the psychological issues as well. I’ve been in some different. Mastermind communities in the business world or entrepreneurial world.
I’ve been facilitating for a few of them and I’ve had some of these conversations around nonprofits and it’s almost this expectation in the for-profit and especially the entrepreneurial space, like why aren’t you part of two or three mastermind communities, which is leadership development really.
And in the nonprofit space, it’s like literally the complete opposite. And when I talk to some of the business leaders, they’re like, “Why don’t they do that?” And there’s these psychological barriers and almost weights that almost this belief that if I invest in myself as a leader and in our leaders, it’s as if we’re stealing from the mission.
It’s really fascinating, there’s like guilt involved here from a psychological perspective. So today’s topic is one that’s really important. I think it, it really is one of the injustices happening against nonprofit leaders in a systemic way. But our guest today is one who’s also somebody who I have seen really be a forerunner when it comes to investing in the leaders that are a part of his team.
And our guest today is a wonderful friend of mine. His name is Jason Janz he’s the co-founder and the CEO of Cross Purpose with a gentleman named Juan Peña back in 2008. I loved Jason, what you were sharing just a minute ago that really what you were trying to do was figure out how do you live your faith differently in the context of the neighborhood and a lot of what Cross Purpose, and I’ll let you speak a little bit about Cross Purpose, but I know your work is deep in the trenches. And I’ve volunteered for Cross Purpose.
I’ve loved being a part of that organization as a volunteer. Of helping to eradicate people’s spiritual and economic and communal poverty. Specifically around workforce development, but all the other components that are that are involved in how do humans come out of all kinds of different forms of poverty, especially economic.
And Jason I love the other thing you said of you’re really trying to look at, figure out what love really looks like. What does it really look like? And Jason, I just wanna appreciate you I’ve known you for a little over a year now, and. And I just have to say, you have very much influenced my life already.
In the short time that we’ve known each other you’ve influenced my children’s lives. I thought about, last summer when you noticed my son Buddy Wannamaker and you just invited him in to come and have a little bit of a job at Cross Purpose that summer and the way that you love people.
It is just so inspiring to me and has been, and it’s deeply touched my life. And so Jason I’m just so grateful and honored to be able to have you on the podcast today. Good to have you here, man.
Jason Janz: Thanks for having me. What a kind intro. And I love you too. And I’m pretty convinced after our pre-talk with Sarah, that she’s somebody I would love being around as well.
And your family’s been a blessing to me. Buddy is a light in my life, and so he just texted me and said, “Do I have a job at Cross Purpose this summer?” I was like, that’s awesome. He’s one of the most fearless, people forward, young people I’ve met. And so we come at the front door just to hug people.
And he’s amazing.
Tucker: I love that.
Sarah: I’m not surprised. I’m not surprised.
Tucker: Jason, tell us a little bit about Cross Purpose, just a kind of overview of the work of your nonprofit. And I know I gave a brief overview, but I’d love for you to share a little bit more about your work and also too around, I know that you’ve won some awards and I want to invite you to share a little bit about those, like you’ve won best culture as an example, I believe over a few years, if I’m not mistaken.
But share a little bit about Cross Purpose and your work there.
Jason: Yeah, I think it just started with my wife and I wanting to live our faith out differently. So 15 years ago we moved into an urban neighborhood in Denver, really to start a non-denominational church, but. I was tired of cheerleading Christians into basic obedience.
And so I was like, if you’re gonna be part of this church, you have to have a ministry in the neighborhood or you cannot join. Period. End of story. Thinking I’d rather have 50 Marines than 500 National Guard any day. Nothing against weekend warriors, but it’s not my tribe. But then I knew we had to create opportunities for people get engaged and so we created ministries. Pretty much realized we weren’t doing much good, like we had a lot of…
Was serving a lot of people, but not having a transformative outcome in their lives. So they came home for me with my next-door neighbor who was working at the local Walmart, changing oil in the Auto Bay for over a decade making 12 or 13 bucks an hour. But she was smart, had a management mindset, and I thought she should be making three times the money.
She was technically living in poverty. But I realized all the things I had heard about solving poverty, like Turkey dinners, Christmas gifts, bikes for the kids, backpack drives, none of that. It was all topical that was not gonna solve the problem. And so started asking the question, “How do you actually solve poverty?”
And I’m a man of faith, so I believe in “Love God and love your neighbor”. And so what does, “Love your neighbor” look like in a way that would… I like how one pastor called it the biblical idea of justice is to help somebody until the need is completely met. And I think most, speaking from my Christian community, most charity is drive-by and it’s not substantive.
And so then we then formed a program in 2012 and took 19 families in our neighborhood and said, “We’re gonna do whatever it takes to get you out of poverty.” We were following a national model that turned out to not be so hot. Six months in, we realized there was not much there, so we canceled our contract with them and had to figure it out on our own.
But I think there’s a bible verse I quote that says, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” If you just follow that, You can figure everything out. I like a reliable car. I like a job that I like. I like a nice recliner when I go home, if I just say I want that for my neighbor, that will show me the path to go down.
So started with 19 families and my next-door neighbor joined that first class. Now we’re 10 years later. This year we’ll help 400 families. On that journey. It’s a six-month program, but then there’s a follow on program for alumni that will not just help them with their job, but actually helps them build wealth.
And that’s the new frontier for us is wealth building as a way to stop intergenerational poverty. And the great news is my neighbor now has bought our own home. She’s a vice president of an organization company. And she’s now on our board. So she’s now my boss, so she can fire me if I don’t behave well.
So I think that’s just that’s just all I wanna do is scale that locally here so that more people can experience what I’ve experienced. I just, Tiffany, my neighbor brought me life. We loved her and she loved us, and what a joy that was. Tucker, you came in and volunteered in that capacity to be a lover.
And I’m seeing it happen. I just feel like I want to strengthen the whiskey, like in the next 10 years make it so potent that it’s so powerful that it becomes a testimony to… that’s what our world’s at right now is just, it’s lacking the love. And so that might be too long of an explanation, but that’s essentially what Cross Purpose is.
Tucker: I love that. I really appreciated what you were sharing around just very practically love myself or love my neighbor as myself and what do I love? And then perhaps they might love it too. Just very straightforward, simple, and not esoteric.
Jason: We might all be somewhat similar.
Tucker: And Jason, I know that underneath the surface of your mission at Cross Purpose are leaders themselves, our people who are on staff, who are volunteering, who are doing work. And again, I know that you’ve won some awards around being one of the top places to work from a nonprofit perspective in Denver.
And I’m curious. As you have doven into the mission itself, what have you noticed about what needs to happen when it comes to investing in the very people who are actually doing the work with you and including yourself? What have you noticed is important in doing that kind of work?
Jason: Yeah, it’s a broad question.
Yeah, we have won the Denver Business Journal’s Best Places to Work three years in a row now, and we just won it in the large company category. And usually, there are 15 companies in each category that win it. So I think roughly 60 companies win that and usually. Two are nonprofits. And it just goes to what Sarah was talking about in the intro. And it’s a big challenge. So I say, first of all, people think because you’re running a nonprofit and you have an altruistic mission, that’s gonna hold people for the long haul. And that’s just not true. And so we then make a bunch of compromises.
And we end up looking at the sector differently than the private sector. And I think that’s fundamentally a mistake. If we need great talent in the private sector to 10x a company, we need the same thing around, in fact, more in the social sector where human needs is so powerful and the work is so taxing.
So I often believe, first of all, the thing that has to change is the mindset of the key leader. And it would be easy for us to blame it on everybody else, but I have found that the first person needs to change in the mindset is me. So I can’t approach leadership development from a scarcity mentality fundamentally.
And I find that when I bring this stuff to my board, they rarely say no or even tweak it. They’re always like, “Yeah, that’s a great idea.” It was like, “We need to up compensation. Jason, that’s awesome. Why don’t you do a compensation study and present it to us?” And I do it and I present it and they are like, yep, that sounds good.
Let’s do a three-year. Change of compensation and raise everybody by 20 or 30%. Like now, granted not everybody may have that board, but that’s also the job of the executive leader is to build, help build a board that’s on mission and values. Not just because they’re president of x, y, z, famous company in town, right?
So I think I’ve had to change my scarcity mindset around my own development and the development of my team. And a great clue, I think is what Sarah said is the private sector just mirror it. So if they have 4x, then what does 4x look like for us in our budget? Because I agree with Sarah, it comes down to money.
That’s where everything gets vetoed. And so if you say so on the values, number one is people matter and your staff matters more than the clients you serve. And I think that might be nonprofit heresy. But you have to believe that the people serving the people are your most important… Jim Collins says this in Good to Great, right?
It’s, you find great people, you win, and you don’t, you lose. And so then if you gotta find great people, then how do you retain great people? And it will not just be with the mission. One of my friends who was an early board member and she’s a corporate attorney, and she said, “Jason I don’t think there’s anything inherently more altruistic in a nonprofit versus a for-profit.”
In fact, she said, “In the nonprofit sector, we often have a veil of self-righteousness around us that actually hurts us.” I was like, whoa. Because we have this altruistic mission then everybody then can foist upon, “Hey, you need to sacrifice your firstborn to work for a nonprofit.” And we start compromising all this stuff because of the nature of the mission.
And I’m like no. Let’s think the opposite. We need to over-resource leaders and keep them. So right now, I think nonprofit turnover is like 30%. I think last year we had 16% turnover, and I watch that number because that tells you, if you’re actually really retaining, first of all hiring the right people, and then retaining the right people.
But I’m not leaning on the mission to be the only source of staff retention. I actually feel like post sabbatical, I wanna say, On our benefits page for working with us, I wanna make a video that says, the greatest benefit of working at Cross Purpose is your actually becoming a better human being.
You’re gonna be a better spouse, you’re gonna be a better leader. You’re gonna have better rhythms in your life. You’re going to feel like you are actually figuring life out versus always reacting to it. And I wanna make that promise. And then that’s my drive. I love our team and I’m at the point now where we have 65 employees, so I don’t really touch the frontline work that much.
So I gotta sit there and say, man, if we want rock stars, we want them for a long time, we gotta resource… A social worker in our town will make $40,000 a year, and I think our ours are now making $60,000. Plus they get a 5% performance-based stretch goal compensation bonus at the end of the year. So what nonprofit gives you, there’s an additional couple grand you can make here at Christmas versus the typical, “Hey, we’re a nonprofit, you get a $50 Christmas bonus to have a dinner with your wife at Chipotle.”
So I’m rambling a bit but you just hit hot button with me around the number one resource is our staff, so let us compensate them well. Let’s only require 40 hours a week. Let’s give them two days off a year for a day of solitude. Let’s take a retreat every year as a company and we don’t talk about work and how to be a better human at all.
We just go play volleyball, and campfires, and s’mores, and a good steak. And then everybody gets a sabbatical for three months after six years of employment. Plus a $10,000 stipend to blow on the sabbatical to do a bucket list stuff that you want to do. That’s the direction I’m going, but I’m not, we’re not all the way there yet.
I have… I’m only filled out 50% of the vision of what I wanna staff culture to be like in a nonprofit.
Sarah: And Jason, so remind me, what’s the size of your nonprofit? Are, you’re a big, you’re a big organization. Is that right?
Jason: As far as budget?
Sarah: And number of employees, what does it look like?
We have a lot of small community-based nonprofits. You have a big vision and a bunch of resources you’re putting against it as a small community-based nonprofit, maybe with 10 employees. What is the lesson I can learn from you, even if I don’t have the budget to do everything you’re doing?
Jason: Yeah.
We’re 65 employees, $10 million. Four years ago we were $2.5 million. 10 years ago we were $300,000. So I do want to say to 75% of all nonprofits in the US are under a million dollars of revenue, 60% are $500,000 of revenue. So I get it. I’ve lived it. And I think that’s why I said fundamentally the first thing that has to change is your scarcity mindset to think that you cannot do this until you’re big. It’s like saying to yourself, when I become rich then I’ll give more. It just never happens. And so start, you can set the culture now and do that. And I would just say where we get into the pinch, if you’re a half million dollar, or a million dollar nonprofit, when I say a $10,000 stipend or a raise of compensation, you default because you’re a good human and you go.
But then we’d have to cut back program. And we’d impact less people. And the answer is yes. Cut the program and build your people and your program will eventually grow. But that’s the lagging factor. The leading factor is your health and the health of your team.
I need permission. Speak to everybody on this.
You have permission to do this. Like you deserve it, your team deserves it, and you’re already laying it out there for your neighbors. So it is okay for you to give yourself permission to take a break, to have a normal schedule, to not be stressing out with year-end fundraising campaigns and to go to your board and say, I want a sustainable future here.
And you have permission to do that, you should do that. It is not a crime in the nonprofit world for self-advocacy. And this is not just this is not, and I know you get the attack from private sector donors sometimes, that they always want us to knock down this quote unquote, overhead thing. That’s, and that’s all its own kerfuffle.
But just lead the… create the organization you actually wanna work for. And be in for 10 years. Even if you’re not gonna be there for 10 years, create that environment. You have the power to do it. You have more power than you think you do.
Sarah: I love that Tucker and I have just been working recently with a few organizations who are struggling with just that this they know they’re doing too much.
We’ve gone through exercises about what, based on impacts to viability could be cut, and often the people doing the work know it and wanna make the change. And it’s the leader who is caught between the board and the staff and often doesn’t feel like they have that permission. To say, you know what? We’re gonna stop doing this so we can double down on our unique value.
And I love that you just gave people permission to do it. That’s what they need. They need permission to go do it. A hundred percent.
Jason: I say to my staff all the time, they’re like, “I’m so busy, I have so many meetings.” I say, “You know what? You have more control over your calendar than you think you do.”
Turn down… “I don’t have time. I don’t have time to work on the business. I just work in the business.” Well, it’s your fault. Take Fridays and don’t take any meetings and let the email stack up. And just get your brain around it and give yourself the rhythm so you don’t feel like you’re always in panic mode.
And here speaks. This is why I love your podcast, because we don’t have the levels of professional development. Like these masterminds and these… I joined a CEO circle three years ago cause I was like, I don’t have anybody else to go to, to teach me how to manage this nonprofit thing.
And that’s been like a master’s degree for me. And just executive leadership just by being in the water once a month for a full day with these 15 CEOs. They’re all for-profit companies, we run our nonprofit with the heart. Of Jesus and the head of private business.
Tucker: Wow. I just wanna let people pause for a moment and reflect on the words that have been shared here because many times we don’t learn from our experiences.
We learn by reflecting on them and I think in this case, inviting people and all of you who are listening right now, like literally pause this podcast right now and reflect on those words. You have permission to do this. You have the capability to do this. And if it means to cut your program so that you can invest more in your leaders, then do that.
And this is, these are, you talked about the compromises earlier and people compromise, leaning into the mission. They were leaning into, investing more into more programs more impact, more out… which is not necessarily wrong, but at the expense of sacrificing people on the altar of that.
And I love just how you shared earlier, the staff matters more than those that you serve.
Jason: Yeah. Simon Sinek, his book, the Infinite Game, he talks about, we have the short game, the long game, and the infinite game. And if you’re involved in justice-based nonprofit work, you are in an infinite game. And you know a short game is the NFL.
Three hours, the game’s over, you know who wins and loses. If you’re in an infinite game, you actually will not. The game will not finish in your lifetime. You will simply pass the baton to the next leader. So if you’re not going to solve your problem and 95%… 99% of nonprofits are not gonna actually solve the problem, they’re out to solve, they’re going to help move the ball forward.
Okay? So then if you’re gonna be in a… even if like Mother Teresa for 49 years and you’re not gonna solve the problem, then what pace would you want? How would you want to live the next 49 years so that you could do the work and be a good enough human to be able to pass the baton on?
And not die an angry, bitter person. That’s how I want to backward design my life and say that’s how I’m gonna try to live it. And actually, the decision is what am I gonna do the next 24 hours? I don’t live in this imagined world of one of these days when I finally have a million-dollar budget.
What is my next 24 hours and how can I change that?
Sarah: Yeah. It reminds me of, I don’t know if you know the Jewish proverb, “You’re not required to finish your work yet neither are you permitted to desist from it.” We won’t finish the work in our lifetime, but that doesn’t mean we’re allowed to not engage in it.
This idea that… I think that’s what often gets folks right, is the idea that we can somehow finish the work and that by constantly doing more, but not necessarily better. That we’re fixing things and I love your approach to saying, we tried the charity approach.
We tried giving backpacks and bicycles, or maybe you thought about it but didn’t try it. But we wanted to raise people out of poverty, so we changed our strategy, right? The end goal matters when it comes to the approach that you take in solving it. And so often we see with nonprofits, they’re doing a lot of things, but when the question is asked, what difference does it make, and how are you measuring that?
Folks don’t have a lot of answer and it’s, it’s this movement from from charity to change that we talk about that, that Bill Milliken often brings up, right? And really being respectful and responsible with your dollars and your time in support of that change, both for the individuals working on it and for those who are benefiting from it.
Jason: Yeah. I talk often about activities-based nonprofits versus outcomes-based nonprofits and activities. Just measures what you’re doing. But I always say, what is the transformative outcome? So if you’re running a food bank and all you report on is how many people you fed, that’s not a transformative outcome.
That’s an activity. What are you actually working towards as a transformative outcome? And the problem that nonprofit leaders face, and I get this pressure. You feel like if you feed a thousand people and you get three people to self-sufficiency, somehow you suck. And I’m like, no, that’s amazing.
And actually, you’re gonna talk to donors about the three, not the thousand. And we think because the donor, the thousand number looks better than the three that the donor’s not gonna fund. The three serious philanthropy is after the three. And if you focus there, your budget will grow.
But I call it this is a terrible term, but high body count, and nonprofit work. We’re into like big numbers on impact reports. Versus transformative outcomes. And that will alleviate a lot of pressure for you to have to keep the program machine going with the high body count and go, no, let’s just work for this transformative outcome.
And it makes you actually do more honest work. And hold you more accountable.
Tucker: And going back to the leaders themselves. I think one of the things I’ve found is the more people are just doing activities but not actually connected to the transformative outcome.
It’s like, “Wait, why are we here? Wait, why am I here?” Or there starts to be a waning of I’m just doing things, but I don’t know how it translates. I’m just doing things, but I don’t know how it fits. Have you noticed this? That the more you focused in on transformative outcomes yourself on the three that you’re talking about, how has that shifted the culture itself of the leaders and the people that are on your team?
Jason: We only like even on budgeting and reporting to donors, we talk about a cost per graduate, not a cost per participant. And that’s just the honest truth. If we’re gonna really be outcomes-based. So everybody in the organization… We have six, we call them our organizational rocks. They’re the goals for the year.
And we have X number of graduates, we want to graduate this year, and every department is moving toward getting the graduates across the line. And so our big transformative outcome is a graduate, which means they have a job at $20 an hour or more. If they don’t have the job, they don’t graduate. And it’s painful at times when someone doesn’t get the job the week before graduation, they can’t walk, but that’s how we hold the line on the transformative outcome. And so then what you do is you drip in that outcome into your rhythms of your board meetings and your team meetings. So every board meeting, we have a mission moment where a graduate will come in or something like that to let everybody touch.
I don’t care if you’re in the back back back back office moving spreadsheets, you’re gonna be touching the frontline mission. On a regular basis. I was just talking to Gary Hogan with International Justice Mission. They have, I don’t know, I think it’s like 1300 employees globally. 250 domestically.
And they have a daily prayer meeting and they are almost always, the prayer quests are, “Hey, we’re in Sri Lanka. And we have this situation here and we need prayer.” And it’s touching everybody to the, anti-sex trafficking work that they’re doing. And they feel that connection. So I think it’s incumbent upon the leader to make sure that the staff that’s not community-facing is regularly touching the reason why we’re doing it in human form.
And by the way, that takes work and planning and lining up the person and all that, but, people need that, especially if they’re just number crunchers. They need to be inspired that what I’m doing here actually matters. Where, as we grow and scale, we are having more back office than we are having front office.
And I’m watching that, because that’s part of the whole culture.
Tucker: Yeah, Jason, I wanna pivot just a little bit and get back to some of the things that you’ve talked about, which is focusing that you gotta start with yourself. And I know you recently went on a sabbatical. And sabbaticals are an interesting topic actually right now in, in nonprofits. Some people are funding them, but they’re not, people come back and it’s much worse than that when they left.
And I don’t know there’s a lot going on I think, in that space, but I’m curious how you’ve leaned into and what you’ve really learned about yourself from. The sabbatical that you went on, you went through that journey of prepping for it. I remember talking to you about this. You went for three months and then you came back.
And I’m curious, just an honest noticing of what you’ve learned about yourself as a leader. And you spoke to it just a little bit, but I kind of want to dig into it a little bit more of what have you noticed about yourself as a nonprofit CEO? What have you noticed about things that you’re learning and need to shift and change yourself?
From having this space and time?
Jason: Yeah, I’ll start with saying, first of all, I think I was fairly cynical about the idea of a sabbatical. I come from the clergy world and so all these pastors, needing this time off cause it’s so stressful and I’m still a pastor to this day.
And I just think pastoring is it’s not that hard of a job. Like it’s a pretty cush job. They don’t have to publish reports, they don’t have to show outcomes. They get to study 20 hours a week. I’m not saying it’s not hard. I’ve done it, but I always felt like why would I go get a three-month sabbatical as a pastor when the guy running the business or the woman as an executive leader in a nonprofit on the fourth row, they’re not getting a sabbatical.
So I thought, it just seems like I’m not, I don’t want to live in that world. It just feels like it’s just… And on this, on the nonprofit side. So then my board chair said, you need a sabbatical. You’ve been at this thing a long time. You’ve never taken an extended break. And so I was like, yeah I have this issue with it and it’s more of an equity issue.
So I don’t see why I have a more important job or more stressful job than the social worker on the front lines with a case management load of 25 people. I said, I could actually make a case that’s harder than what I do. Yeah, but you have the stress of finances and staffing. I said, yeah, but I’m also built for it.
And that’s my gifting. So and if we all have hard jobs and I said, “I don’t really feel like it’d be great for me to take a sabbatical without everybody getting a sabbatical.” And he was like, “Okay. Then everybody can get one.” And I said, “That means even the custodian will get a sabbatical.”
He like, “Yeah.” And I said, “Then I also don’t wanna send people that are already not making killer money. Without being able to go spend money and go to Tahiti if they want. So can we give them a stipend?” And so we did that. So everybody gets a $10,000 stipend to go. So we have seven people going on sabbatical in 24 months on the team.
And I am pumped about it. Like they’re… And everybody’s geeked about it. And our custodian, if you’re in nonprofit work, you turn that position over about every six months. And our man, he’s one of our graduates actually, he’s been here for three years. So that’s huge when… And he has a stressful job, by the way.
He’s dealing with all the mess. Our building has hundreds of people in it every day, and I can’t wait for him to get his sabbatical. So that’s just the framing of it. And I think that gave me permission also to be able to go. And then, what did I learn about myself? It’s a long answer, but I got a coach that specializes in this and I had two sessions with him and he gave me like five rungs of a sabbatical.
A process you actually go through. And that made me take it a little more seriously. And then prepping for it. They shut off my email, shut off my text messages, instructed the staff not to talk to me. Like literally it was a complete brick wall between me and the organization. So that was awesome as well.
And then I think I learned a ton. So I would say some of the things I learned was: Just chill out!
I think our bucket list trip was a 16 day Mediterranean antiquities cruise, and my wife and I stood on this hill in Rome on a bike tour and overlooked the Colosseum. And my guide said, “Jason, Rome is the great lasagna.” And I said, “What? You’re the lasagna?” She said, “Yeah, there’s civilization upon civilization underneath this hill right here.”
In fact, we’re actually standing on top of Nero’s House. The guy who took over just put dirt over the top of it because he didn’t like Nero. And, underneath that is another civilization. Another civilization, and so when you sit there and realize, “Okay, here I’m sitting in Rome, and civilizations come and go and leaders come and go. And this has been happening for thousands of years. We’re one little nonprofit in one little city in the western United States, with a couple million dollar budget trying to do good work. And you know what? This whole thing may not be around in 10 years. So just chill. It’s not that big a deal.”
Somebody gave me a book and I covenanted did that I would just ask a bunch of sages what I should do on sabbatical and whatever they said I would do, it was my way of submitting to other voices. And so one guy gave me a book called 4,000 Weeks. And there’s a chapter in it called Cosmic Insignificance Therapy.
It basically says, for page upon page, you are not that big a deal. You are not gonna change the world. So take a break and enjoy your vacation. Don’t be so hard on your team and on yourself. And that was great. So I think the staff felt it. They’re still… the jury’s still out as if I’ve really changed because I could be a fairly high-strung productive, demanding leader and all that kinda stuff.
And so in fact somebody made a joke, “Hey, we interviewed this person and she was high energy and high octane and really had a lot of thoughts and seem fairly driven, like pre-sabbatical Jason”
Sarah: I love that there’s now a pre and post Jason.
Jason: No, it’s encouraging to me and it’s also scary. And I told my team, I said, “Guys, you’re watching…” Ruth Haley Barton said the greatest thing a leader brings to their leadership is their own transforming self. I’m like, “Eh, I don’t believe that.” And I told my team, I said, “You’re watching me transform, hopefully in front of your eyes, and I might miserably fail. I might go back to pre-sabbatical Jason in three months, but you’re asking to watch me fail in front of you. But that’s all I know to bring to you is where I’m at today and how I’m trying to change.” So I think that’s a big one, was chill out. I wrote down a few things. One of the quotes I read that was amazing was, “In the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable, we learned that ultimately in this world, there is no finished symphony.”
And it was in Ronald Rolheiser’s book There is no finished symphony. And I think when you actually realize that what you’re working on will never be a finished symphony, I don’t care if it’s your marriage, your friendships, your parenting, your work, or your vocational life, it will never be a finished symphony.
Accept it. That then lets you chill out. Man, I’m striving for the finished symphony and I know it’ll never happen. That’s like a little bit of a mind trick. But it has so help me. To just chill and relax and go, “Man, I’m gonna go… I really want the symphony to be perfect, but that tube is gonna hit a flat note and that’s just life.”
Exactly. And it’s kinda funny.
Sarah: Yeah, I was gonna say, it’s gonna make someone laugh and you know what? That’s worth it.
Jason: And it’s the best it’s ever going to be. But if you foist, I need the perfect 10 vacations, the perfect 10 marriage relationship, I need to the perfect 10 parent.
Parenting is essentially, I don’t know, one parent that doesn’t struggle with regret, like on the daily. I should be doing more. I should be better. There’s no finished symphony in parenting. You’re not in control. Those little beasties are gonna have a will of their own. So I think everybody really appreciates the fact that I believe that statement.
Sarah: I love this piece about what if we don’t matter that much, right? What if we’re taking ourselves too seriously all of the time? And what would it look like for us, all of us, to be a little bit less concerned with whether we’re personally winning or not?
And just what it looks like to be with each other as we go along for the ride.
Jason: In this moment, all I know right now is I really am enjoying Tucker and Sarah and when I reflect on the day in my evening prayer, I’ll be grateful for our conversation. We were able to have about something meaningful.
And then I hope somebody listens to it and the tuba actually hits a good note with them and they talk to their board about taking a break. But, if that happens, it’s great. But today, right now, in this moment, I’m enjoying it. One quote I will share is, “Find the goodness of God in your actual life, not your imagined or desired one.”
If you’re not a person of faith, find the goodness in your actual life, not this world you’re trying to build, and you’ll enjoy everybody. Everybody will enjoy you more.
Sarah: Yeah. Meg Wheatley—who Tucker and—she’s an amazing philosopher and we were, what was it almost a year ago, Tucker, at that Awakening Conscious Leadership thing. She was there, and she can come across as a relatively cynical human being, but she was saying the only change that we can really make these days is local.
Like so many of us are trying to make this big change at the level of the country or the state or the world. And that’s not the time we live in anymore. And the real difference we can make is where we’re at physically is in the things around us. And I think about that a lot because I think it’s true.
Jason: Yeah, and I would pile on with that, that I actually was… we get pressure to scale nationally and all this kinda stuff as an organization. And, you know, Walton. Senior leader at the Walton Foundation said, “Jason, national scale is so overrated for what it actually delivers, and so do not lose the local piece.”
So as I was thinking about the scaling thing, I asked myself the question, “What did Jesus say about scaling?” He actually led the most powerful movement, I think, in global history. And so 2000 years later, a third of the globe is bowing to him. So how did he scale that? And he doesn’t say anything about it. He doesn’t say anything about reaching a scaling plan, but in Matthew five, he gives this little passage where he says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they can see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.” So Jesus never talked about size.
He talked about luminescence. And actually, everybody can gauge their luminescence. Even a sole operator. It can be a really bright light. I’m friends with this woman who has a nonprofit—and I won’t say the name of it for privacy reasons—her motto is to sue the hell out of the porn industry.
She literally finds ways they’re breaking the law and sues them. And has got MasterCard and Discover and Visa to quit taking PornHub stuff. And she’s won all these suits against them. Just a sole operator, but bright light. I just try to get around her because she’s so courageous, the light is so bright out of that woman and I just want to be exposed to it.
And then I wanna bring her to everybody I know and say, look at this courage. So I think I just wanna encourage everybody listening.
You are a light. And your light, you don’t even understand. The reason the donors are giving to you is usually because of the light you are radiating from yourself. And they wanna be around it. And so when you invest in yourself to become a brighter light through personal health and also not living in fear and insecurity, just living out of the mission and saying, “Guys, we’re not in this for the money.”
So just say it and get out there. And I am convinced the impact you’re having will actually the biggest impact you’re having will not show up on an annual report. It’ll probably be at your funeral when people say, “She said this to me at a meeting and it changed my life. And it didn’t… It was unmeasurable.”
This is, If you walk into our facility, we have this painting of Leaf by Niggle, which is J.R.R Tolkien’s autobiography. Tolkien basically gives a story of this man who is painting a tree but never could get the leaves quite right, and he dies and goes to heaven and sees the tree as he would’ve fully imagined it.
And I used it as an illustration saying, “Our little ventures we’re doing are these little leaves we’re trying to get perfect and we never get them right. There’s no finished symphony. But the imaginary tree, what is actually really happening, is there’s thousands of leaves out there, so be encouraged. Focus on the luminescence of the light, not the size of the organization, all that kind of thing. And it will have the impact it’s designed to have. But you cannot do that if your light is clouded with your own unhealth. So invest in yourself and in your team.”
Tucker: Wow. What a rich conversation Jason. I was at a retreat last week and we had a co-created experience around our shared purpose of being there.
And what really emerged for me was that the pathway to where you need to go is through healing. Which is, healing for me… And I was the one who ended up drawing it, and I realized that it’s my own healing that needs to happen first. Before I go strategic, if you will, or where we need to go.
It’s like I need to go down first before I go up. And I just am appreciating what you’re sharing because our own healing is… A dear mentor of ours, Dr. Daniel Friedland, who was a lot of the basis for some of our work, said if we wanna lead well in the world, the first place we need to lead well is within ourselves.
And so Jason, I’m appreciating who you are and for taking those really courageous steps to heal yourself, to work on yourself, to lead well from within, to know who you are, to be that transforming self. And again appreciate it because I’ve seen it, not just by you talking about on this podcast, but I’ve seen it in your life.
I’ve seen it. You’re really the real deal, Jason, in terms of being, being that transformative self, that who’s sharing of your own transformative journey. And I just appreciate your honesty and your courage as well in doing that because it’s a bright light that a lot of people need too.
Jason: Hold me accountable because it’s gonna affect your children.
Sarah: Are we back to pre-sabbatical, Jason? You know what? I bet that guy was a great guy too. I’m not gonna lie, Jason. I doubt that there’s either or, my guess is there’s a middle. Yeah.
Jason: I’m dealing with a real difficult transition in a key relationship right now. And we brought a third party in and we spent hours together.
And there’s a list of eight things where I’m an insufficient leader right now in how I’m leading. The work I’ve gotta do in the next 24 months to grow in those eight areas is gonna be intense. It’s just like, I’m 50 I’m not peace-ing out. And I got a decade or two to like really give to the work and I need to grow as a leader and lean into these spaces.
And I don’t like it. It’s very uncomfortable, but, we call it doing the work, like you gotta do the work. One of my takeaways from sabbatical was a quote that said, “The older I get, the less concern I have with what I have or have not done. And the more concern I have for what I have or have not become.”
And one of my board members said to me at my birthday party last week, “Beautiful people don’t just happen.” It’s a quote from an author, I forget the name, but Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, I believe. Beautiful people don’t just happen. So you have to do the self-work because it is important. I wanna say to the nonprofit leaders due to the nature that you have taken on the mission with your life, says something beautiful about you.
And the world needs pictures of beautiful people. So the time you can invest in yourself, to become more of a beautiful person, will have an outsized impact upon your community and those who know you.
Tucker: Jason, thank you so much for this incredible conversation. Thank you for the permission that you’re giving to so many nonprofit leaders out there that are listening to this podcast who need that permission. And I think we all need that permission. We’re not meant to do it alone. And I think that you’re helping to give people permission to just do that thing that they know deep down is what they need to do.
But there’s so many things, they’re stuck in our heads and so much. And just chill out. And do the work internally. And it’s okay. It’s good. It’s meant to be. That’s what you need to do. So thank you for just being who you are, Jason. Thanks for leaning into loving your neighbors and loving yourself. Thank you for your faith and for leaning into it in a very practical and real way.
And just thank you for doing what you’re doing and for bringing your light into this podcast and out, into the airwaves and the podcast sphere to be able to share with others.
Jason: Yeah! Back at you guys. I just wanna say Tucker, listen I’ve had a burden for the local ecosystem here of nonprofit leaders. And I think we now have 120 CEOs and we have this luncheon quarterly.
Mainly because I felt like it’s an undersupported sector of leaders. And I’ve seen like the attendance at these things has stayed consistent over the last two years, which means, everybody’s busy, but they’re all coming to these luncheons because they just need the comradery, to swim in the water, to learn, and all of that.
And so I have a huge burden for what you guys are doing and I struggle with the fact that I’m actually not called to make that my main profession. So I’m deeply encouraged that you guys are making it your profession because that’s just encouraging me and you’re doing a far better job of it than I would do of it.
Being super thoughtful about it and bringing the voices together. If the leaders are healthy, the communities will win. And so you guys are putting your energies into a catalytic spot. In the work. Thank you.
Tucker: Thank you, Jason. In the show notes we’ll have a little more about Jason.
You can connect with them potentially on LinkedIn or go to their website, crosspurpose.org. And Jason, I’m sure you always love it when people reach out, connect. And so if you wanna connect to Jason.
Jason: Yeah. There’s a practical… if there’s a practical thing I can do for you or I could send you.
The slide deck of my sabbatical report, or if you want. Yeah, whatever you heard in the podcast would be helpful. I’d be glad to forward to you.
Tucker: Yeah, that’d be great. That’d be great actually, if you have the, I was thinking the five, the frame that you were talking about around the sabbatical that.
I think you had a coach for people who are starting to, explore that journey. That may even be an effective frame for not sabbatical, just taking a break. I’m guessing so. Yeah, any of those types of resources would be great and we can put them in the show notes for people to be able to access and learn more about, but awesome.
Thanks so much, Jason. Appreciate you.
Sarah: Thanks, Jason.
Jason: We’ll see you soon. Be blessed, you guys.