Non-Profits – Uniting the old and the new

by Sahadev Komaragiri

Synergy between the founding members and the new members can create wonders for a non-profit. How can a non-profit generate and sustain synergy? Here is one way – create a common ground between all the members of an organization. This common ground is inviolable. One on which everyone can plant their feet firmly. The broader the common ground the better it is. The more accommodating and inclusive it is, the better it gets in keeping the unity. It is this common ground that can unite all the members and generate new ideas.

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

Rules of Engagement

A strong foundation of an organization rests on a well thought out constitution. It creates the necessary common ground that all can stand on. All members including the founding members should treat the constitution as a sacred book that cannot be violated under any conditions. The constitution must be as black and white as possible. Any grey areas must be interpreted by the spirit behind the law rather than the convenience offered by the present moment.

It is the constitution of an organization and how religiously it is followed that keeps the organization going for ages while constantly attracting new talents and resources. Term limits for all positions, as enshrined in the constitution, is extremely important. This is a very simple and yet a very powerful rule. Term limits work for great democracies as well as for small organizations. An organization that does not respect these term limits may turn into a dynastic monarchy that attracts sycophants and opportunists. They may not realize the brewing rebellion that will sweep them off one day.

Functional Transparency

By nature all are born good and can be trusted. But trust can only take us so far. It is the verifiable processes and procedures that enhance trust and promote strong morals. Any process that is not adequately transparent is bound to attract negativity. It certainly weakens the organization. An organization cannot run under a veil of secrecy and yet expect to grow freely. In the West, organizations run on strong processes and procedures. In the East they run on the trust and charisma of the leaders that run the organization. How about a good mixture of both?

Financial propriety and transparency is as fundamental to a non-profit organization as fragrance is to a rose. In these matters the organization should be above reproach and suspicion. An example of a crumbling financial propriety is when the annual financial report shows a significant percentage of expenses under miscellaneous section. All members should take personal responsibility and religiously guard the financial security of the organization.

Transfer of knowledge, resources and power from one executive committee to the next must be well thought out and executed. A succession plan for every position must be adequately documented and devotedly followed. Imagine what happens to an organization when the website coordinator refuses to release the website admin password and all the relevant information to the next team!

Side Effects of Volunteerism

Volunteers spend a great amount of time, energy and personal resources for the benefit of the organization. They are the ones usually found cleaning the floors and spending hours and hours of time in volunteer work. Positions that they take up in the organization allow them to mature gracefully and equip themselves with new tools. They should ensure that the star status that these positions bring should make them more humble. They should not consider themselves indispensable.

An organization should provide the volunteers with adequate appreciation and recognition. Some of these volunteers grow into leadership positions. These new leaders will invariably gain some ground in their capacity to influence and alter the course of an organization. An ill equipped organization feels threatened by the growth of such new power structures and works on countering their influence. This struggle remains as an undercurrent during the year and raises its ugly side when it is time for the (s)election of the new executive committee.

A well equipped organization, on the other hand, allows for this capacity to grow to the benefit of the organization. It will not feel threatened but instead finds an opportunity. It finds ways to tap this energy and inspire it to grow. It ensures that the new structures do not degenerate into political activism that is not in line with the goals of the organization.


A recipe for disaster includes secrecy, financial impropriety and leaders who consider themselves above the organization they are serving. An organization can excel when it is open, financially sound and served by leaders who inspire confidence and trust. Organizations come and go, but only a few can live up to the dreams with which they were started. A good non-profit organization should constantly strive to keep itself imbued with latent talent and renew itself with changing times – not only to survive but also to have a lasting impact on the lives of people who depend on its sustenance.

Please note that the primary focus of these posts on non-profits is to cover general theory on how organizations work and how, in my opinion, they should be working. I have no one in my mind and none of the paragraphs are aimed at anyone that I know. My goal is achieved if these articles generated some interest in making the non-profits a better place for all those who intend to serve the society.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Deepa Vedavyas December 5, 2010 at 12:25 pm

At the org level -Openess and acceptance to change, open and honest communication, ability to constaly update and upgrade both at the level of an individual and the agency
At leadership level – a true mix of humbleness, entreprenurial spirit/knowledge, honest and open communicaiton and ability to break the silos w/n the the kind of old the new and the old look up to and emulate/aspire to the list could go on in both sections I gues but these would be in the top of my list 🙂


Sahadev Komaragiri December 5, 2010 at 6:38 pm

Good List! It is a problem when all the key members communicate only by email and do not talk to each other either in person or at least by phone. It is a sign of missing openness. A good team consists of members who get the best out of each other. That is possible if all forms of communication are open at all times.


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