Closing down an organization or program requires tough decisions about services, personnel, and — most importantly — the communities and people served. If your organization is facing such a decision, thoughtful consideration of strategic alliances and restructuring options may enable your organization’s legacy, as well as its core purpose and mission, to live on.

Define what’s most important: If you’re discussing the possibility of closing down a program versus the organization, focus your discussion on the scope and role of that program within the context of your broader organizational purpose.

  • What is our core purpose? What problem are we trying to solve, or what new reality are we trying to create?
  • Is this core purpose still relevant in our current environment?
  • What’s our unique value? Are there things we are doing that no one else is doing or doing as well?
  • If we were to close down, what needs or gaps would be created, and which colleague organizations would be best positioned to fill those gaps?

Assess your options: For some organizations, a conversation about the possibility of closing down the organization or a specific program comes at a time when all other options have been exhausted. For others, it’s a more strategic conversation about the best way for the organization to move forward, given its larger context. Depending on which of those two realities best describes your organization, your conversation about options will vary dramatically.

Do we have the option of continuing to exist as an organization (or program)?

If yes…
…would continuing as an independent organization be the best way to serve our core purpose?

…are the considerations that prompted this conversation about possible closure likely to change?

…are there other options that would enable us to serve our core purpose more strategically?

…do we have options for strategic partnership today that we may not have in the future?

If no…
…are we ready to begin formal planning for our closure, which may include transferring our assets (programs, capital, personnel) to another nonprofit?

…if not, what’s holding us back? Will delaying formal planning for closure expand or limit our options for legacy planning?

Think creatively about your legacy by leading a collaboration strategy: If your organization is ready to think about how your legacy can continue through the work of another organization, here are some questions to consider:

  • With whom would it be most logical for us to partner?
  • Are there organizations for which our organization’s knowledge and experience could add significant value?
  • When we close, on which organizations are those we serve most likely to rely?
  • What criteria are most important to us as we vet a potential merger or program transfer partner? Are there things that would disqualify an organization from consideration?
  • What would be most important for a potential merger or program transfer partner to know about us? Are there things that would be essential in terms of expectations to set or commitments to be made?

Once you’ve identified the type of strategic partner you’re seeking, you’re ready to initiate a conversation. Board members should avoid initiating a conversation with a potential partner without being empowered to do so by the full board (in cases of mergers or acquisitions) or by the executive (in other programmatic partnerships).