Why Do Things Go Wrong?

Last week, I mentioned five types of work people need to do when establishing a new nonprofit. This week, I wanted to mention a couple of things I see go wrong often enough that it helps me understand why these foundational pieces are so important.

When I think about what are the biggest problems that torpedo new nonprofits there are two that pop to the top of my list, and they both relate to the founder:

  • The founder simply doesn’t understand the full amount and type of work entailed so they become overwhelmed and are unable to establish a sustainable organization.
  • The founder is resistant to others having control over their “baby,” and they take more or less complete control over the organization once it’s established.

What are the two biggest problems that torpedo new nonprofit organizations? Click To TweetIn my work, I’m trying to address both these problems. The first can be addressed by providing a reality check to would-be founders. The five phases I mentioned last week are a framework for the wide variety of the work that needs to be accomplished, and the forty-odd individual steps they contain help the new nonprofiteer understand the scope of the work. My ebook and board game help address that problem through education.

The second issue is more problematic.

I’m currently working with an organization where the founder seemed to have a need to control every aspect of the organization. This contributed to disengaged volunteers (including the board), a lack of transparency overall (including nobody even keeping track of the organization’s expenses), a massive board turnover, an IRS audit, and an investigation by the state. When the founder left in the wake of all this, she took most of the social contacts away, leaving the organization with a bad reputation and no way to rebuild it. The organization in question has done a lot of good while it was functional, but if the founder had shared control with some others then it would have had a fair shot at surviving her departure.

Paraphrasing an article from the Nonprofit Quarterly, if the founder of an organization truly is the organization then it’s not actually an organization. One of the foundational phases is the Growth Phase, a period when it’s crucial to reach out to potential volunteers and co-founders. Too often, founders take the easy road and recruit a few friends and family to rubber stamp their decisions. But this is when finding ways to share leadership and responsibility is paramount. Laying this foundation in the beginning makes the nonprofit a real organization, not someone’s baby.

That’s it for this week. If you want to learn more about my work, visit the about section on my revamped website. See you next week.