Driven By Podcast

Peter Abell | The X-Factors That Transform a Non-Profit Organization

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My guest this week is Peter Abell, the CEO of Memphis Symphony Orchestra. I’ve heard about how much transformation MSO had undergone over the last few years. Today we’re talking about deeper reasons that push you into your interests, how to transform a struggling non-profit, the X-factors that create a significant impact, how a symphony drives the classical music within a city, how to step back and look at challenges differently, how to adjust when COVID-19 affects your organization, how to address your need for control, the feeling when you know it’s going to be hard, and more. I hope you enjoy this week’s episode.


  • My guest this week is Peter Abell (1:07)
  • You went to the University of Tennessee, right? (2:56)
  • This is the third non-profit you’ve been affiliated with? (3:58)
  • What is it about non-profit organizations that you’re attracted to? (5:36)
  • When you talk about the “double bottom line” and the “chief people gatherer”, you talk about opening up to the process. What specific shifts have you learned to make that were difficult and/or you’ve come to appreciate? (9:08)
  • What is the best way to operate where you’re respecting the board but also your own personal thoughts about where the organization needs to go? (13:24)
  • The things we enjoy as citizens in this city (and the same for orchestras all over the country and world), the foundation of the arts or music in that area is done by the symphony. So when people have events in the city, they draw off the symphony and that’s a lot of overhead. But when the money was raised, it gave you, the board and the team freedom to start doing the deeper things. (20:40)
  • So what made this happen was you coming on after some dark times, the relationship with the donor and his large commitment jumpstarted this? (28:26)
  • When the donor called you and asked if you could make this work, what did that feel like? (32:45)
  • You talked about the internal piece, but in a non-profit space what have you learned that your people need the most to be able to navigate these difficult seasons? (34:43)
  • Have you been through a season where there was someone who reported to you, was key to the organization but it wasn’t working out? What have you learned regarding that? (37:37)
  • What do you think gives you contentment in this season to wake up each day and keep charging forward with optimism and confidence? (43:27)
  • Can you talk a little about February and March when COVID started to be taken more seriously – what did the emotions feel like initially and what are your plans for growth after this season?  (52:21)
  • What’re you excited about once this passes? (58:41)
  • From a family perspective, how have you learned to operate with so much ambiguity but also what that looks like at home? (1:00:17)