Episode 3: Founder Transitions + Studying Millennials

Conventional wisdom has always suggested that a nonprofit make a clean break from its founder, to avoid the dreaded “Founder’s Syndrome.”

But according to research by Jari Tuomala and Donald Yeh of The Bridgespan Group, organizations can benefit when they carefully plan an extended role for founders who step down.  They recently published “Making Founder Successions Work” in Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR), based on more than 500 leadership transitions at nonprofits.

Only about one in four transitions involve an involuntary break but almost half yield some type of new role for the founder, ranging from a paid or unpaid advisory/consulting role to a board member or full-time or part-time staff. Their research identified four types of founder transitions and seven signs that a founder has stayed too long.

The study is based on Form 990 from 2,000 organizations in addition to 538 responses to a survey disseminated by BoardSource, GuideStar and Bridgespan, as well as interviews with almost 50 board members, founders and successors. Of the survey responses, 474 experienced one or more transitions and another 50 experienced two transitions for a total of 524 transitions.


The largest generation since the Baby Boomers has finally come of age, with the oldest now approaching 40 and the youngest in their mid-20s. Derrick Feldmann has been studying millennials for almost a decade. He’s founder of The Millennial Impact Project, which puts out an annual study of millennial cause engagement that examines  “the subject through a new lens each year since 2008.”

The latest research is the 2017 Millennial Impact Report: “An Invigorated Generation for Causes and Social Issues.” It looks at the differences in how millennials have engaged before and after the 2016 presidential election. “Millennials who have been most passionate about causes and social issues have considerably increased their activity.” We talk about what that means for nonprofits and what organizations can do with that information.

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