[NPFX Ep. 28] The Nonprofit Founder's Lifecycle: From Startup to Stepping Aside (with Stephanie Small and Patrick McWhortor)

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Welcome to The Nonprofit Fundraising Exchange, a podcast from IPM Advancement. Our mission is to empower nonprofits to succeed so they can make the world a better place.

Today’s topic: The Nonprofit Founder's Lifecycle — From Startup to Stepping Aside

Nonprofit founders are the heroes of the nonprofit world. Yet some fail to recognize when it’s time to step aside. In today's podcast episode, our panel takes a look at the lifecycle of the nonprofit founder, how founders and their boards can best avoid "founder's syndrome," and what it takes to prepare and execute a successful leadership succession plan.

Time-Stamped Episode Shortcuts:

  • The founder's role in a nonprofit organization [3:36]
  • Do founders own their nonprofits? [6:11]
  • When you should or shouldn't start a nonprofit [8:48]
  • Do you have to be good at fundraising to start a nonprofit? [11:05]
  • The early stages of the founder's lifecycle [14:58]
  • Preparing your nonprofit for when you eventually step aside [19:15]
  • How does a founder know when it's time to step aside? [21:19]
  • How much notice a founder (or other long-term leader) should give when they decide to leave [25:32]
  • Succession planning and preserving the founder's knowledge for future leadership [28:05]
  • The value of hiring an interim leader for a successful transition [34:03]
  • Should a founder stay involved after stepping down as leader? [37:31]
  • The stigma of "founder's syndrome" and recognizing founders as "social entrepreneurs" [42:21]

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Stephanie Small specializes in building the organizational capacity of mission-driven organizations in a “meet them where they are” lifecycles framework that ensures her services are tailored specifically to organizational needs. Having served as the founding executive director of Free Arts of Arizona for over 14 years, she recognizes the opportunities and challenges that face organizational leaders. BoardSource certified, Stephanie is authorized and qualified to utilize all BoardSource curricula, conduct the board self-assessment process, and provide consulting in all areas of governance.

Patrick McWhortor is CEO of Arizona Citizens for the Arts, an advocacy organization dedicated to advancing arts and culture in Arizona and supporting public investment in the arts. He has been involved in nonprofits and public affairs in Arizona for nearly four decades, including ten years as founding President and CEO of the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits. As a consultant, Patrick provides leadership, strategy, and team building services for his clients. He also serves nonprofit organizations of all sizes in the role of a professional interim executive. In addition, Patrick teaches philanthropy, nonprofit, public policy, and political science courses at Arizona State University.


Rich Frazier has worked in the nonprofit sector for over 30 years. In his role as senior consultant with IPM Advancement, Rich offers extensive understanding and knowledge in major gifts program management, fund development, strategic planning, and board of directors development.

Russ Phaneuf, a co-founder of IPM Advancement, has a background in higher education development, with positions at the University of Hartford, Northern Arizona University, and Thunderbird School of Global Management. As IPM's managing director & chief strategist, Russ serves as lead fundraising strategist, award-winning content creator, and program analyst specializing in applied system dynamics.


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