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The Nonprofit Oz Syndrome

No nonprofit is perfect. When you peak behind the curtain, there are always issues or challenges. A new or emerging nonprofit might look up to another, more established organization with awe and respect. A smaller charity might feel intimidated by the “great and powerful Oz” larger nonprofit. Guess what? That powerful nonprofit was once a small, emerging entity.

Small nonprofits and large ones have their own unique challenges. All sizes of nonprofit share some common ones such as fundraising, program expertise, capacity of staff, and how to engage the board and other volunteers. Bigger budgets and more programs don’t always mean a smooth-running organization.

The Oz Syndrome has at least two sides. One is our perception of other people or organizations we view as perfect and invincible. Two is when people or organizations work to create an aura which others are afraid to breach. Symptoms of the Oz Syndrome at an organization will be low productivity and lack of engagement. There can a little paralysis about how to best break out of this limiting mindset.

If you are noticing these negative symptoms in your organization, here are a few action items for you:

  • Get out of your office!

  • Walk around and see what is really going on in the organization.

  • Be active in the community with other nonprofits

  • Talk with staff and colleagues like they are human beings.

  • Do not jump to conclusions.

  • Keep your perspective.

  • Be clear about what is urgent and what is not.

  • Stop taking yourself so seriously.

If you are in awe of another, larger nonprofit organization, you can combat your Oz Syndrome by getting to know your peers at that organization. Make it a priority to build relationships with your peers at similar-size and larger nonprofit organizations. You may find that you belong to the same professional organizations such as the Association of Fundraising Professionals or a service group like your local Rotary Club. Engage with networking groups. Take a lesson from the playbook of business owners and create a network of people who will support you through your professional journey.


Michelle Crim, CFRE

Dynamic Development Strategies can help. We offer coaching, grant writing, and fundraising services for our nonprofit clients. We specialize in small to mid-size organizations because we understand your challenges. Please contact us for more information.

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