There is nothing I love more than talking about the amazing humans who start nonprofits, the founders. These very special humans are angels among us.  I was recently asked to be a guest on Nonprofit Radio with Tony Martignetti to talk about founders. Like all people who start businesses our nonprofit founders are some of the most incredible entrepreneurs. They run businesses that rely on the generosity and kindness of others. Not an easy business model for sure. Today, I thought I’d share both our conversation and a few highlights from it.

Common Traits of Nonprofit founders

Of the hundreds of people I have spoken with over the years, it is amazing how much they have in common. Every nonprofit founder I have interviewed never had a plan to be one. Something happened, a catalyst and a moment that changed the direction of their lives. That catalyst lead them to this work and altered the course of their life forever. Whatever happened to them or someone they love, that founder was determined it wasn’t going to happen to another human. That is the WHY to their work and how these remarkable people are so passionate about their cause.

Over time the founder and their cause can become one and the same. The founder’s life work and identity is in their nonprofit. This is the same for founders of regular businesses too. Think of Colonel Sanders and KFC or Martha Stewart where is the separation of church and state? It is often hard to know where one ends and the other begins. Like many small businesses across the country, there is very often not a succession plan.

When is it time to think about a succession plan?

No one ever wants to face their mortality. We all think we will live and work forever. However, that isn’t usually the case. Making a retirement plan and a succession plan is important for everyone. As my husband says, ” Everything you enter, except for a marriage, should have an exit strategy.” When do you know it’s time to exit the organization you founded?

  1. The organization stops growing or becomes flat.
  2. New people are not joining your mission or cause.
  3. You notice that innovation stops.
  4. The organization only looks to the founder for direction.
  5. When the founder and the organizations are one and the same.
  6. People support the founder and not the organization.
A few insights 

Every founder should have an exit strategy when they start the organization. If you don’t have one, it is never too late to start thinking about one. We all want to leave a legacy of goodness, regardless of our work. Nonprofit founders should begin thinking about what that legacy looks like. Their boards should engage in active succession conversations. Never wait until it’s too late. The WHY, the reason the nonprofit founder started this work is what needs to remain long after the founder is gone. The organization is the WHY and not the founder. Lastly, we can not lead unless we serve. Sometimes we just need to get out of our own ways to help those that we set out to help from the start.




New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

Copyright © 2022 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.


Write A Comment