Closing Our Doors

Dear Kim,

I am a founder and advisory board member of a small nonprofit that is having to close its doors after six years of service. We are seeking advice on putting together a closure plan that is respectful to our donors as well as the community we have served. There are also two open contracts that we are hoping to pass on to existing agencies and we are looking for strategic advice about how to do this.

We are fairly desperate and any advice you can offer is appreciated, even it is to refer us elsewhere.
Thank you,
—The End Is Near

Dear Near,

First, if I can be so bold, I want to congratulate you on thinking about how to close your organization with dignity and integrity. I am sure this is painful time but it is so important to remember that just because you close doesn’t mean you failed. I think some groups hang on long after they should have closed, thinking that closure is the worst possible fate, when in fact, staying open and doing almost nothing except trying to raise money is far worse.

Anyway, that is not what you asked. My main advice is this: be honest. My second piece of advice is: get everyone on the advisory board saying the same thing. Decide what you are going to say so that you have some kind of message control. Send a letter to your donors explaining what happened. Tell them that you really appreciate their faith in you and that you were able to provide high quality service for six years. You might want to suggest some other organizations that will be doing some of the work you were doing. I would call your long time and very faithful donors including your major donors and any volunteers that don’t know about your situation and explain it to them personally.

To pass a contract along will require the assent of the entity that made the contract with you in the first place. Most contracts have some kind of exit clause or termination clause, so look at that. If you know other agencies who would do a good job with the contract, then suggest that to the contractor and to the other agency. Personally, I would let them sort it out from there. You may want to consult a lawyer if there is a lot of money involved in the contracts.