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Susan G. Komen Foundation

10 Great Social Innovation Reads: February 2012

February was the month to learn from other’s mistakes — from Komen to Hull House there was some great analysis about what went wrong and what can be learned. The other thing emerging in February was new social media darling, Pinterest, as an opportunity for nonprofits to tell their story visually.

Below are my ten picks of the best reads in social innovation in February, but as always, please add what I missed in the comments. And if you want to see other things that caught my eye, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Pinterest.

  1. The biggest news in February was Susan G. Komen Foundation’s repeated strategy and PR blunders when they pulled funding from Planned Parenthood, then reinstated the funding. Kivi Leroux Miller offered tips to recover from a PR scandal. Nancy Schwartz broke down Komen’s “busted nonprofit brand” and Beth Kanter described the 5 stages of a social media PR disaster.  And when things finally settled down a bit, Komen stumbled again with their attempt to reassure donors.

  2. Always a great resource, the Nonprofit Tech 2.0 blog provides 50 Fun, Useful, and Totally Random Resources for Nonprofits

  3. “As modern businesses search for a soul, who better than Millenials to help find one?” This month there were two articles about how the Millennial generation approaches work and ultimately how it will change how we all work: 13 Ways The Recession Has Changed How Millennials View Work and The Crisis of Meaning in the Millennial Workforce.

  4. Tom Watson launched a new column in Forbes focused on social entrepreneurship, and his inaugural post took an interesting spin on the endless “what is social entrepreneurship” conversation by finding parallels between Steve Jobs and Occupy Wall Street.

  5. Sometimes Dan Pallotta gets it really right, and that is especially true with his post arguing that a huge missed opportunity for philanthropist is to invest in the fundraising capacity of nonprofits.

  6. In the Harvard Business Review blog Nilofer Merchant argued that technology is fundamentally changing how organizations operate. This applies to nonprofits as well, and we should all take note.

  7. If you, like most people, struggle with creating content for your blog, this infographic makes it so much easier.

  8. Writing in the Washington Post, Antony Bugg-Levine, head of the Nonprofit Finance Fund, argued that nonprofits must embrace breakthrough innovations like restructuring their approaches to social problems and using capital to build organizations, “The sooner we confront our new economic reality and support visionary thinking and organizations, the sooner we can begin to rebuild a sustainable safety net.”

  9. The collapse of one of America’s oldest and most successful nonprofit organizations late last year, Hull House, provides a cautionary tale to other nonprofits that may not be employing good financial management, argued Rick Moyers.

  10. An interesting debate loomed at the end of the month because of a study by the Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University that found nonprofit managers lack key financial knowledge. But Kate Barr and Ruth McCambridge took issue with the study’s methods arguing that the study missed the mark.

Photo Credit: aithom2

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How Founder’s Syndrome Hurt the Komen Foundation

Last week’s stunning PR nightmare at the Susan G. Komen Foundation is a textbook example of how not to run a nonprofit. Komen decided early last week to pull all funding from Planned Parenthood and then went radio silent in response to an increasingly angered social media network. Finally they flipped their original decision while firing the anti-Planned Parenthood vice president for public policy, Karen Handel.

Komen’s PR response was woefully inadequate, their social media efforts were non-existent compared to Planned Parenthood’s, and their board decision-making process was flawed. And all of this follows their brand-busting decision last year to partner with KFC.

Obviously, the organization is not making good decisions.

But few people are placing the blame for these missteps where it should probably go, at the top. Karen Handel herself argued that she wasn’t the only decision maker, “I clearly acknowledge [my role] in the process, but to suggest I had sole authority is just absurd. The policy was vetted at all appropriate levels.”

I wonder if Komen isn’t suffering from classic founder’s syndrome. Founder’s syndrome is when the original founder of a nonprofit (or a leader who has been there for a very long time) creates a culture where:

  • Power and influence all reside within the single founder
  • The brand of the organization is inextricably linked to the personality of the founder
  • Staff are powerless to speak up and be heard when they disagree with certain decisions
  • The board of directors merely rubber stamps founder decisions and have no real authority over and provide no strategic direction to the organization
  • Decisions are rarely tested or debated

Komen was founded by Nancy Brinker when her sister, Susan G. Komen, died of breast cancer in 1982. For such a massive organization (a 2010 budget of $400+ million), the Komen Foundation only has 9 board members, most of whom are friends or family of the founder . The organization’s structure and behavior have all the signs of classic founder’s syndrome.

In a healthy nonprofit environment, staff are allowed (even encouraged) to push back, ask hard questions, have their dissenting opinions heard.  And the board of directors has the ultimate strategic and fiscal authority for the organization. As a group, they debate and grapple with big strategic decisions. And, as a group, board and staff together are charged with achieving the mission.

When founder’s syndrome is present it can spell trouble for a nonprofit. Far beyond the PR nightmare we have witnessed the past week with Komen, founder’s syndrome can fundamentally weaken an organization. It can make the organization’s funding and brand name overly reliant on one person. It can cause a lack of critical and innovative thinking. Ultimately, it can mean that the organization becomes less about social impact and more about the personality of the founder.

What has played out with the Komen Foundation over the past few months should be a cautionary tale for other nonprofits. To be strong, effective, innovative and sustainable, a nonprofit must encourage a culture of group ownership. It remains to be seen if Komen learns from their mistakes, but at the very least perhaps other nonprofits can.

If you want to learn more about overcoming founder’s syndrome and creating a succession plan for your nonprofit, check out the Moving Beyond a Nonprofit’s Founder webinar.

Photo Credit: Jeffrey

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