Case Detail

Case Summary

The Night Ministry: Facing the Loss of a Founder

Case Number: 5-112-004, Year Published: 2012

HBS Number: KEL667

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Authors: Anne Cohn Donnelly; Sara Lo

Key Concepts

Board of Directors, General Management, Leadership, Succession Planning


Paul Hamann was senior vice president of The Night Ministry, a Chicago-based not-for-profit organization. In October 2003 he received a phone call from the wife of the Reverend Tom Behrens, the founding president and the public face of the organization. She told Hamann that Behrens had suffered a massive stroke and that doctors were unsure of his prognosis.

Behrens had been walking the streets of run-down Chicago neighborhoods since 1976, looking for people in despair, listening to their needs, and offering them a helping hand and a consoling presence. In the intervening twenty-seven years, he had built The Night Ministry into a well-known organization that helped thousands of adults and youth every year.

No succession plan, if one existed, had ever been conveyed to senior management. Now Hamann was unsure when or even if Behrens would be able to work again. If Behrens returned to work, would he be able to continue to lead the organization? If not, who would lead The Night Ministry going forward, even if it were just for the near term, and who would make that decision? How would the community and major donors react to a new leader?

Learning Objectives

• Understand Founder’s Syndrome and why it is unique to the nonprofit industry
• Distinguish a founder who is still adding value from a founder who exhibits symptoms of the syndrome
• Recognize the problems that arise when an organization’s founder remains in a leadership position after the relationship has become dysfunctional
• Identify ways an organization can prevent Founder’s Syndrome
• Appreciate the role the board of directors plays in managing and supporting a leadership transition

Number of Pages: 9

Extended Case Information

Teaching Areas: Non Profit

Teaching Note Available: Yes

Geographic: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Industry: Nonprofit

Organization Name: The Night Ministry

Organization Department: Management Team

Organization Size: Small

Decision Maker Position: Senior Vice President

Decision Maker Gender: Male

Year of Case: 2003