What are some signs your organization has Founder’s Syndrome?

* Lack of Transparency in Decision Making Process
* Power Reside in One Person (Or a Few People)
* Micromanagement, Task Driven, Not Idea Driven or Project Driven
* No Interest in New Ideas, No Changes or Innovation
* No Systems, Problems Repeat, No Collaboration

The effects of Founder’s Syndrome can be devastating and long lasting on staff, donors, volunteers, and the organization itself.

Founder’s Syndrome is when the Founder — or founders — of an organization retain too much control. They do not allow the organization to develop, grow, or change.

Founders– the people who create nonprofits — are remarkable indeed. They miss sleep to build Websites, skip lunch to meet with potential donors or partners to develop the organization. They create something out of nothing simply from their drive and passion.

If it weren’t for these rare warriors many of the local nonprofits that do so much good in our communities would not exist today. We owe our founders a great deal of respect and they deserve all the kudos they get.

Founders are essential not only for creating the organization but for being a strong leader. Healthy organizations go through phases of development. At the founding stage, organization’s need a single dominant voice steering clearly toward a mission, vision, and overall course of action. Without this direction the project will likely never fully launch and remain haphazard, stymied by too many voices calling for different actions.

Yet as the organization matures and develops proper procedures and structures, many founders continue in this initial leadership role; preventing innovation and new ideas from emerging. Their strong voice stifles other voices which may have ideas that are better for the organization at this different point in time. Their preferences for branding and marketing will slowly become routine and lackluster as everything begins to stay the same….this can impact the entire organization over a long time.

Founder’s Syndrome typically emerges at a transition point in an organization’s life between a small, new organization and a mid-level, institutionalized organization. Yet Founder’s Syndrome can be seen at various points in organizations’ lives. Here are two examples: a brand new organization whose founder already exhibits the signs by refusing to show any transparency with the board she created. A well-established nonprofit, doing much good in the community, exhibits this by having their founder self-select and train her successor who then trains and self-selects her successor, with no involvement from the board, keeping everything exactly the same over decades although the founder is long gone!

So how do you stop Founder’s Syndrome from infesting the organization? How do you improve if you’ve been operating like this?

1-Create a Culture of Expression: welcome ideas and input from staff and board members.
2-Empower Everyone: Encourage Staff, Board, and Volunteers to take on projects and run with them.
3-Encourage Collaboration: Get People Working Together
4-Clarity: Explain the system of power, the process of decision-making, the goals, the mission and keep
everyone focused

Creating new cultures are difficult but with proper leadership and board training a new, happier environment can emerge.