Oh, so now you been Passed over by Someone with an MBA

Earlier this week I wrote about grantors trying to measure something unmeasurable, and the attempted corporatization of nonprofits by their funders. This post is a continuation of that post, all about what happens when you take corporatization to its logical conclusion, to the top level of the nonprofit.

Have you ever wanted to move up in your nonprofit, but seen that people with MBAs seemed to be getting the top jobs?


This post will tell you why. And what happens when people with no nonprofit experience try to do nonprofit executive level jobs.

In the last two jobs I had, the nonprofits were RUINED by two managers with MBAs who came from corporate backgrounds with absolutely NO nonprofit experience.

One Executive Director with an MBA (coming from the insurance industry) came on and fired EVERYONE, going through 32 employees in 2 years like a combine harvester. Then because there were too few people working at the agency, one of the confidential domestic violence shelters turned into a brothel.

Another nonprofit CEO (coming from the compliance sector in the healthcare industry) with a brand new MBA stole $2,000 from the agency, lied and said he didn’t know what he was doing, then he hired and fired another fundraiser, and then another fundraiser, and then stole $44,000 from the agency and finally stepped down, after destroying all of the credibility the agency had built up from its LAST scandal.

Aside from lying and stealing, these “leaders” had never been on the ground with programs, and to compound that they were distant from programs, never visiting the program site, or working to become closer to program staff. They also did not have passion for the mission or strategic vision on where the nonprofit should go. They did not approve budgets. They were paranoid and lashing out at people to the point that they would miss meetings with you for 5 months and you would actually be grateful that you didn’t have to deal with them. The people they DID meet with would come out of their office looking tearful and would lock themselves in the bathroom to cry.

My boss used to ask me to write down everything I did during a day, and to write down all of my contacts, and used to say that “everyone is replaceable”  which naturally made me afraid that they just wanted to replace me, and eventually they did just that.

So basically, now if I hear someone has an MBA and wants to go lead a nonprofit with no nonprofit experience, I’m like:

oh so now you got an MBA

Does this sound familiar? Has this ever happened to you or someone you know?

Maybe Your boss has Obsessive measurement disorder

I was talking with my friend Sabrina the other night and ranting about the new MBA nonprofit leaders with no nonprofit experience and how they want to reduce everything to metrics, reduce people to digits on the bottom line, to treat everyone and everything as replaceable.

She works in state government, and she said, this new corporatism is happening in government as well, the MBAs try to measure things, but they don’t have the academic background to do it. They really don’t know what they’re doing, and they don’t know how you cannot measure certain things that matter.

“But Sabrina!” I said facetiously. “Surely, if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t matter!”

And she said “RIGHT.”

What’s the solution? Well, she said, when they start to bug you about measurement, you need to tell them, “EXCUSE ME, Do you have a statistics and program analysis background? No? Then don’t try to tell us what to measure, chump!”

The new managerialism, OR Why your boss has an MBA and NO nonprofit experience

Alison Bernstein writes over on the National Endowment for the Arts blog writes: “New managerialism” appears to be the catch-all phrase to cover a shift that transforms knowledgeable leadership into decisive managing.

What used to be a prerequisite for a candidate—namely, knowledge of the company or the sector—is now a liability. It’s not an advantage to know the terrain or the people who inhabit it. If you do, you are likely to be less, not more, effective as a manger.

You won’t be able to make hard decisions that could affect the lives and livelihoods of your employees. Or, if you know the field and have been a part of it, you are regarded as “part of the old guard,” too tied to the past to make the proper, tough reform decisions. New managers are often prized for their outsiderness to the culture of the institution so what used to be a liability in a search process (what does he/she know about whatever the topic, public education? nonprofits? philanthropy?) is now a marker of independence and the ability to see things with a fresh eye.

This phenomenon of choosing managers from the business sector for key philanthropic leadership roles has been growing in the past few years.”

So, as if you weren’t mad already, I give you the culmination of all of this creeping corporate efficiency. You can’t get ahead in your nonprofit, NOT because you’re not good at your job, but because you’re not inexperienced enough.

You’re not an outsider! That’s what’s wrong with you!

You didn’t work in the corporate world.

Therefore, you’re unfit to lead a nonprofit.


WHAAA? This is the kind of crazy logic that allows you to have a boss without any nonprofit staff experience whatsoever.

What can we do to combat this disturbing trend? Should we insist on having a staff advocate on the board? Should we unionize our nonprofits? Should we make sure that we follow the adage, nothing for us without us? meaning, people that you serve should be on the board too?

What do you see as the solution? Please leave a comment.

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