Nonprofits get started because someone has a vision for some type of change. Very often, it is one person who has that vision. That can be a good thing if a charismatic individual can rally allies and enough money to make a difference.
Over time, however, nonprofits need to take on a look and feel that are not the same as the identity of the founder. When that does not happen, an organization or cause risks stagnation, irrelevance, possibly even nonexistence. Unfortunately, many founding or long-time leaders fight to maintain control even when that becomes a bad thing.
- In their book “When Leaders Leave” Priscilla Rosenwald and Lesley Mallow Wendell wrote that when such a leader tries to maintain disproportionate power and influence over an organization the dysfunction is not just present, it is palpable. They offer the clues that can indicate such a situation exists:
- The organization has become exclusively identified with the founder/leader;
- It is reactive, rather than proactive;
- All critical decision-making is centralized with the founder/leader, without real input from staff or board;
- The founder/leader is surrounded by cheerleaders at the board and staff level where loyalty (rather than good ideas and ongoing feedback) is the most important value;
- No succession plan exists;
- There is limited professional development for current staff leadership; and,
- The board often rubber stamps the founder/leader’s actions and does not probe basic financial or programmatic questions.