What about founders? Do they help or hurt? That was a student’s recent version of a question I get asked a lot, in many different setting? Loaded question or what!
The truth is that founders who know how to be good founders are a true asset, not just to the organization which they establish, but to the community which they serve. Unfortunately, however, the flip side of that is equally true: founders who do not know how to be good founders are worse than not being asset; they are a determinant to the organization and the community they intended to serve. There is a reason that whole forests have been felled to write about Founder’s Syndrome. (Just do a web search on the term and you will get hundreds of thousands of hits, the vast majority of which talking about Founder’s Syndrome in the nonprofit sector.) And a reason that the phenomenon was given such an odious name. And so it is time to hail the good founders.
Who is a good founder? After all, anyone who has the passion, commitment, energy, truculence, fortitude—okay, I’ll stop—to start and sustain a nonprofit must be good. That is clear. But a founder isn’t good simply because s/he starts an organization. A good founder understands that it truly does take a community to sustain a strong, vibrant, health nonprofit, and s/he builds that community initially and intentionally, and then let’s the community, of which s/he is a part, take over. A good founder understands the value of having a board that will work in partnership with him/her, challenging, pushing, introducing new ideas, rather than, as a colleague refers to it, a board that will simply bobble their heads and rubber stamp.
A good founder understands the importance of planning for his/her eventual departure, and thus cultivates new talent, builds an inclusive management structure, encourages independent thinking.
A good founder understands the extreme importance of being open to new ideas, of staying ahead of the curve, of not going stagnant, as a stagnant organization is a dying organization.
And finally, a good founder knows when it is time to move on and allow the community to continue the good work. To all of you good founders out there, I tip my hat. And to those who still think you organization you founded is yours, please come around and allow your original good intentions to flourish.