The NP-Myth

NP-Myth:  the fatal assumption that any individual who has a passion about a charitable mission can successfully create and manage a sustainable nonprofit to further that mission.

Best-selling author of the E-Myth Revisited, Michael E. Gerber, hypothesizes that the single most disastrous assumption anyone can make about going into business is this:  "if you understand the technical work of a business, you understand a business that does technical work."  Gerber describes three conflicting personalities of a business owner:  Entrepreneur, Manager, and Technician.  The Entrepreneur dreams and lives in the future; the Manager frets and lives in the past, and the Technician does things and lives in the present.  Business failures commonly occur because the Technician dominates management of the business.

The same framework is common in nonprofit organizations.  Nonprofits often promote their best technicians to management positions, sometimes without regard to their entrepreneurial and management capacities.  And a Technician-dominated management perspective can be equally disastrous for a nonprofit as it is for a for-profit business.  So, the E-Myth is a problem in the nonprofit sector too.

But a fundamental tenet of the E-Myth books, the E-Myth Point of VIew, emphasizes that "your business should work for you, rather than you working for it."  This is not consistent with the operation of a nonprofit, and perhaps why we have not yet seen an E-Myth book targeting nonprofit leaders.  

Further, nonprofit leaders have a fourth personality: the Nonprofiteur, who like the Entrepreneur dreams of a better future, but unlike the Entrepreneur, envisions it from a broader perspective.  The Nonprofiteur wants to change the world (or some discrete part of the world) and expects others to support his or her ideas.

In combination and in balance with the Technician and Manager, the Nonprofiteur is an essential component of a nonprofit leader's personality.  But the assumption that anybody with a passion to further a charitable mission can successfully create and lead a sustainable nonprofit is dangerous and wrong.

The NP-Myth is more intuitive and therefore far less pervasive than the E-Myth.  But it remains a common and costly problem, particularly with respect to founders of small, start-up nonprofits.