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Nonprofit Founder’s Syndrome

You know that person, right? The one who is passionate to the point of obsession. The one who spends all their money to keep their nonprofit organization afloat. The one who feels that they are the only one who cares about the cause, the one who can’t work with anyone, because no one understands their way of thinking.

My definition of Nonprofit Founder’s Syndrome is when one or more of the nonprofit’s original founders continues to be directly involved in running the organization on a long-term basis to the detriment of the charity. Best practices recommended a rotation of your board members and having term limits. There is also potential for conflict if a founder continues to direct operations with no official role in the organization and tries to micromanage the hired staff leader. To thrive, organizations need to be open to new ideas and different ways of operating.

Why this can be an issue for a nonprofit:

o Micromanagement

o Can limit growth of nonprofit

How should you be transparent in financial mismanagement if founder serves multiple roles/gives significant donations to organization?

What is the impact of in-fighting? How can you mitigate long-term damage to your relationships and organization?

How to avoid these issues and plan for future success:

o Succession planning

o Clear policies and procedures around board roles and responsibilities, and have term limits

o Avoid stress and politics

Some of us are lucky enough to know the other kind of founder. The one who invites you to share her/his/their passion. The one who welcomes new people, new ideas, and new resources in support of her/his/their cause.

If you’ve started a nonprofit or you’re thinking about starting one or you’re working with someone… this article is for you. My research on this subject, uncovered many ways to avoid this all too common situation of Nonprofit Founder’s Syndrome.

Here is my summarized list of questions and things to consider for founders and potential founders and the people who love them.

1. Does your community really need another nonprofit? Is another agency already doing what you want to do or serving the client, student, or patron that you want to serve?

2. How are you with numbers? You should understand the finances of running an organization or have someone at your side who does.

3. What’s your plan? Really you need more than one plan. You need a strategic plan, even consider crafting a business plan for your nonprofit. You need plan to build your board of directors, to raise money, as well as one to serve your clients.

4. What’s a bylaw? You need to know the answer to this, as well as, what’s an article of incorporation.

5. Ask for help. Creating a structure, filing the paperwork with the state and the IRS, sharing your vision and passion with others and getting them to walk beside you will take more time, energy and money than you think it will.

An organization thrives when its founder has taken the time to lay a solid foundation, knows when they need help and asks for it. Most important, they know when their job is done and allow others to move the mission forward. There is where we can help. Let us know if you need assistance with creating or building your nonprofit.


Michelle Crim, CFRE

Dynamic Development Strategies can help. We offer coaching and fundraising services for our nonprofit clients. We specialize in startup and smaller nonprofits because we understand your challenges. Please contact us for more information.

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