Founder’s syndrome is when the founding member(s) of a for-profit or nonprofit organization maintain authoritarian power and control within the organization. Also called, founderitis, the controlling member does not feel the need to collaborate on executive decisions or any decision for that matter.
Board members in a founderitis afflicted organization have no real decision-making ability or independence. They often find that if they are consulted on a decision, the founder overrules their choices.
Meetings are held to assign tasks or to get status updates. Board members may also be underqualified because they were chosen for loyalty to the founder and friendship rather than expertise.
Founder’s syndrome leads to issues within a nonprofit. Directors find that they cannot contribute in an effective manner. This may lead to them resigning due to a lack of professional development or dissatisfaction.
Five Signs Your Nonprofit Suffers from Founder’s Syndrome
- The Founder does not consult the board members during the decision making process. In fact, there is no process.
- If the founder does seek advice, it never changes his decision
- Differences in opinion are disregarded, seen as hostile or undermined
- The Founder operates outside her area of expertise even when there is an executive team member with relevant skills and experience
- There is no succession plan
A board needed to file paperwork with the Internal Revenue Service. Even though there were two directors who were accountants, a director who had previously filed this paperwork for another organization, and a fourth board member who was an actual lawyer, the founder decided they needed to hire a an outside law firm.
After checking costs and presenting the names of familiar, local lawyers, the founder chose someone else. In addition to contracting with a lawyer on his own, he wrote a check to prepay all government and legal fees.
After six months of excuses and unreturned phone call to this lawyer, a director completed the paperwork with one of the accountants, and filed it herself. Turns out the founder had hired a random attorney he found in the phone book!
Founders can turn into the nonprofit’s worst enemy when they refuse to believe the organization needs delegation, diversity or additional skills. They fail to allow the organization to prosper and thrive independently. Without meaningful strategic development the nonprofit stagnates or worse yet, fails.