Founder’s Syndrome

February 1, 2011 at 2:48 pm Leave a comment

Whether you are starting a new organization or working with an established one, an important issue that all nonprofit organizations need to watch for is Founder’s Syndrome. It refers to a person (or people) who helped start an organization or who helped an organization survive a difficult time and remained to become the central authority and decision-maker. How Founder’s Syndrome hurts is that it doesn’t share governing or allow for new ideas and if something should unexpectedly happen that the founder isn’t available, the organization can be crippled.

It’s a more common problem than you think and it can lead to discouraging new leadership, dysfunctional operation, and hindering growth. If you see stagnation or new board members coming on board then leaving after a short period of time, you should look at whether Founder’s Syndrome is a factor. 

If you suspect the organization has Founder’s Syndrome, please read this article by Hildy Gottlieb that provides great examples of the attitudes and actions surrounding this issue. Be honest. Do you see this in your organization?

A new organization can preempt this by establishing term limits on board members, especially in the presidency or chairman position, in its by-laws.  This makes it clear that there will be fresh leadership and establishes the expectation that the organization will allow rotation of leadership and develop new leaders.

Established organizations may find it awkward to address moving the founder or founders on to other roles so the organization can grow and allow new ideas and leaders. I’m providing links for advice below.

Read more about Founder’s Syndrome here.

Great advice to the Founder written from a Founder’s perspective who also serves as a consultant helping organizations work through Founder’s Syndrome can be found here.



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Miradelta Consulting specializes in capacity-building services for nonprofit organizations. We can help your organization expand through new program development, project management, fundraising and outreach planning.


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