The Truth about Founders

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on June 27th, 2008 in Articles, Thoughts & Commentary

1 comment

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.

The opinions expressed in Nonprofit University Blog are those of writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of La Salle University or any other institution or individual.