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.

4 thoughts on “The NP-Myth

  1. Carol Hambarian

    If there is anyone out there who has been denied protection under the laws of the land because of these non profits (health benefits denied or terminated, retirement denied, disability payments terminated, wrongful discharge) we need to come together and be a strong presence so that others don’t have to suffer the hazards of being a “part” of one of their organizations.

  2. Carol Hambarian

    From experience, I can tell you that all the effort the non profits put into having people join their endeavors, job employment, for example, it is for NAUGHT. Should a problem arise….they are quick to say that “They have nothing to do with the problem.” It’s called (501) (c) non accountability. Don’t be fooled by their lofty mission statements and do-good by laws. I don’t know who those words are written for, but they are NOT for the people in their own corporations. Once you’re part of the organization, the mission statements and by-laws are suddenly not for you, but for others who they hope won’t be savvy enough to figure out that those words are just “come-ons”. Don’t be fooled. Do your research. Ask people who have been associated with these entities. They’ll tell you…or maybe they won’t. They can “change the rules at any time and/or for any reason”…so says one of their publications. But the words are written on the back page, and I’m sure very few people read them Been there…..

  3. B.J. Hull

    It is nice to see someone address this publicly. I have held this opinion for quite some time and it only grew after my own reading of the E-Myth. Thank you for the posting.

  4. Maureen

    Well said!

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