Submitted by Shannon Sullivan on January 22, 2018 - 12:13

Founders and Nonprofit Leadership

This blog post is by Shannon Sullivan, Director of Strategic Planning; you can read more about Shannon and learn how to contact her here.

Recently, NPQ re-published a very popular article from 2013 entitled, "Rediagnosing “Founder’s Syndrome”: Moving Beyond Stereotypes to Improve Nonprofit Performance", urging the sector to re-diagnose founder's syndrome within the lens of nonprofit performance.  That is, can we be pushed to move past our stereotypes and assumptions about founders, their judgments and their leadership over time and move toward impact and assessment performance no matter how long the tenure of the current ED/CEO?  Or better stated, why do we assume founders will necessarily make poor organizational decisions the longer their tenure? 

To be sure, there are plenty of examples of founders acting out of self-interest as opposed to organizational interest, but aren't there also plenty of attendant examples of non-founders making the same leadership missteps? At M+S, our focus in assessing organizations as part of planning or restructuring is in delivering the most current, clear-eyed picture of the organization in terms of finances, leadership, structure, programs, equity and inclusion, and resource development no matter the tenure or status of the ED/CEO.  As the article clearly states, for founders, the success and impact of the organization can actually provide further motivation to make sound leadership decisions: let's not assume blame, but rather assess for success.