Breakfast of Champions: Judy Alnes
No-nonsense advice from an experienced executive director
Jan 14, 2015


Words by Lauren Van Schepen // Photos by Marie Ketring

Judy Alnes may be one of the most quotable people you’ll ever meet. With years of experience and a sharp sense of humor, she’s a seemingly bottomless fount of no-nonsense advice. A number of  YNPN-TC members and Pollenites were the happy recipients of her wisdom during a recent Breakfast of Champions event. Below are the nuggets from the executive director of MAP for Nonprofits that elicited the most vigorous nods, loudest laughs,and more than a few “mmhmmm’s.”


“I went to college between 1970 and 1974, and like many of my friends I was a very fiery young person. But while they were getting high and protesting, I was busy storming out of board meetings I chaired at the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG). One of my first lessons was how to manage myself and my emotions. I had to learn to consider someone else’s perspective.”


“While working as a vice president at Control Data Corporation I was in awe of the very me. I defined everything about myself by that job. Then I was laid off. It took time, but I realized we all get our hearts broken; it’s part of the fabric of who you bring forward. It may take six months to not cry when you think about it, and years later it may still hurt.

But you have to dust yourself off after those falls.

There are magical times in our lives we’ll never be able to reinvent, but we all have value — no matter where we work, or what we make.”



While I may lack a degree on paper, I certainly don’t in terms of what I know.

“Seriously consider whether the debt of graduate school is worth it. It makes me so upset to see young people with $80,000 in debt. You’re trying to pay that off while working in the nonprofit sector? I hate to say it, but the only advice I have in that scenario is to marry well. I never got my master’s degree. I was excited to work and be paid, not work and pay someone else.”


“Most of us get energy from connecting with people, and you can do that at work, but not if you’re working breathlessly. We need to ask ourselves if our positions require we work these long hours, or if we do. We all have 24 hours and need to determine the pace at which we can carry out good works in a way that’s sustainable.

Know yourself.

I get stupid when I work longer than 10 hours. If you’re a supervisor, strive to develop a culture that encourages employees to explore other aspects of being alive.”


“Going forward we need to be more courageous and bold with the change we make. We need to be louder about our demands and what we need to do our work.

Be people known for thinking big, acting strong, and following through.

Advance equality, respect the environment, and develop products and services that benefit the world.”



Reach for impact, not positions.

“Remember: Your work matters, but you don’t always have control of the end result. Reach to have the ability to advance your impact, not your title. I love sharing this quote from Thomas Merton:

‘Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.’”

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This piece is a summary of a conversation with Judy Alnes, which took place at MAP for Nonprofits on November 14, 2014, as part of Pollen and YNPN-TC’s joint Breakfast of Champions series. For more information, or to register for an upcoming event, check

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