Nonprofits: How to Go from a Passionate Start to Sustainable Growth
Most nonprofits are inspired by an impactful vision in the heart and mind of a well-meaning, passionate leader. But ideas don’t build organizations; healthy leadership does. Leadership that is always growing and subjected to challenge. I find that if a founder is not disciplined to continuously improve as a leader and does not submit to serious accountability on a regular basis, huge blind spots form and the growth of the organization is choked.
The Problem: Most nonprofits fail, according to statistics.
According to Forbes, over half of all chartered nonprofits are destined to fail or stall within a few short years. Note these points regarding many non-profits:
- The organization does not have a strategic plan. Or if they do, it has never been put in writing.
- Over half of the nonprofits do not execute quarterly checks for performance goals or annual reviews of their leadership staff.
- Many nonprofits have no plan for the future. Over 75% of them lack a leadership transition plan as existing leaders retire.
- Over half of nonprofits report that there are no measures in place to keep the vision and brand aligned among stakeholders. People are not on the same page.
Why does this happen? Primarily because there is not a transition from a passionate leader’s world-changing vision, which engenders the initial momentum, to mature leadership that builds sustainable organizations with proper governance and strong systems. With time, if the big vision is not realized, then no progress is seen—and everyone abandons ship.
Below are common traps I have observed that well-meaning leaders are vulnerable to.
Reasons for Failure
- The founder intentionally or unintentionally creates a weak, ineffective, or inept board.
- The founder does not seek coaching, mentorship, or other active-learning tools.
- The founder is not held accountable.
- The founder does not grow as a leader.
- The founder does not step aside when appropriate.
All founding leaders should ask themselves these questions:
- Will this nonprofit survive after me?
- Have I set up a strong, effective, and well-functioning board to guide the nonprofit beyond my ability and lifespan?
- Do I have a plan and goal for when my time to step aside and allow a better leader take my place?
- If I want to continue to lead this nonprofit or ministry, am I actively seeking how to improve myself as a leader, regularly submitting to coaching, and fully engaging in true accountability?
- Have I given my board moral authority to hold me accountable?
These are not easy questions to answer. But I believe the leaders of nonprofits and ministries that succeed beyond the initial blip of a passionate idea ask themselves these questions and answer them satisfactorily.
Since most nonprofits are created by passionate, self-sacrificing leaders, no one in their circle has the moral authority to tell them to step aside, to listen, or to change course. Only a few leaders acknowledge and respect the points above.