Non-Profits – The “New” Problem

by Sahadev Komaragiri

A non-profit organization needs a constant infusion of new blood. The new people provide it the necessary lifeline. They are usually young and bring in a lot of new ideas. They help expand the support network of the organization. The new entrants play a significant role in the way an organization expands, slows down or erupts into a crisis.

At this time, before you proceed further, may I recommend you to read Non-Profits – The “Old” Problem?

Definition of the “new” problem, like the “old” problem, is not going to be too easy. But here is my feeble attempt. A “new” problem is something that comes uninvited, in the most unexpected form, and at the time when the organization is least prepared.  It usually comes from within. External threats pale in comparison. When you join a non-profit organization please note that you may find yourself entangled in a problem that many new entrants find themselves in. In order to steer clear of such issues, you have to understand your role as well as the role of founding members. You have to understand how the organization treats its new entrants(and why) and how you fit in.

Understanding your role

New entrants are usually younger and more energetic than the founding members. The fact that they are interested in volunteer work is in itself a very positive news. They may soon prove to be a valuable asset to the organization. But somewhere along the process the new entrants get too absorbed in changing everything and that too almost as soon as they get in. Rather than understanding the wisdom behind the existing processes the new folks question everything. They get impatient with the rules. The new should understand clearly what they wish to change and why. The only thing that is constant in dynamic organizations is change. It is important to understand how you would bring about this change.

It is a bitter medicine to swallow but we will try and swallow it. The new folks often come with tons of new ideas but court little accountability. They often have nothing to lose! When a serious crisis erupts because of the decisions taken by new entrants, they can simply shake off and leave. The founding members have nowhere to go but just clean up the mess. This is precisely what makes the the founders wary of anything that is introduced as a new idea! Once you understand this background, you will have a better appreciation of what goes on in the minds of the founder members.

You may be learning something new at their expense, but what are you willing to give in return?

The new should earn the trust of the founding members. This is possible only if you, as a new member, show an honest inclination to learn and contribute your ideas in incremental steps without destablising the long standing processes. You should have a clear focus on the long term sustenance of the organization rather than on the short term gains. Patience and understanding are the key elements.

Understanding the role of the founding members

Founding members of an organization invested a lot of time, energy, money and resources in starting and growing an organization. They are always in the line of fire. Everything, including their own reputation, is at stake for them. Often times, new entrants in an organization rarely have any true appreciation for the remarkable sacrifices made by the founding members. They were not there when the organization was founded to see first hand all the sacrifices made by its members.

New entrants sometimes lack the basic understanding that the executive trustees are ultimately responsible for everything that happens within the organization. For example, financial activities often have legal implications and the responsibility ultimately lies with the trustees and the executive officers.


The new should know that they are indeed new and that they have to learn to walk before they learn to run. I would look at my role in an organization in two ways, one as a learner and two as a contributor. I can be a devoted learner if I know that my purpose of being in the organization is to serve. I am in it because my life’s purpose is in alignment with the goals of the organization I am part of. If that is not true, then I wouldn’t be there in the first place. I should remember that this is a non-profit organization, that means there is no profit of any form to anyone. Period. Contribution to an organization should not just be in terms of finances, time and effort but also in terms of new ideas that bring in lasting positive changes. There is no hurry. There is a long way to go and a lot to contribute, therefore I will learn rigorously and contribute wisely.

If you read this entire article, I am sure you would be interested in reading my next post on Non-Profits – Uniting the old and the new?

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Deepa Vedavyas December 5, 2010 at 11:49 am

Sahadevji, I throughly enjoyed reading the old problem at the level of the succession planning and the board. I would like to hear both sides of the new problem and not just as how new ‘is the problem’ in an organization..May be it is in the next one, I am yet to read..


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