What To Say (And Not Say!) When A Person Is Going Through A Non-Profit Closure

Though closures of projects in the civil society/non-profit space are nothing new, it still can be a bit tricky to know how to be supportive and show empathy when someone is going through this life-changing experience. A few friends of mine recently went through personal tragedies and as I was thinking about how best to be there for them I got to thinking about how we might show up better for people going through organizational endings.

Some Less-Than-Helpful Personas


People often assume an organizational closure is the result of some big failure , blowup, or catastrophe. The thinking is often that there is some salacious story or else some agonizing tale of woe that caused the organization to come crashing down. However, the truth is that lots of groups close for mundane reasons and some even close intentionally and triumphantly (see the story of WaterSHED’s closing as one example).

Rather than getting into the details of the organization, why not meet your friend where they are and check into what is coming up for them. Do they have any immediate needs that you can assist with? Are there any milestones coming up where you might be able to check in with them? Mark your calendar and set reminders to be there for your friend and colleague when and where they actually need you.


The non-profit funding landscape is tricky and getting trickier every day, but you know who likely knows that best? Your friends working at non-profits. Bringing up articles you read about how things in their industry or area of focus are “particularly bad”, is not really going to be useful when they are already face to face with the end.

Part of what lead to the organization’s demise is likely to be related to lack of support from funders and other stakeholders and was often painfully out of their control. Mentioning macro trends when someone is facing an urgent and acute issue smacks of blaming the victim.


NGOs close in so many ways and for so many reasons. In the short time, I have been talking to people about these endings, I have heard stories ranging from the disastrous to the positively jubilant. So when you hear someone’s organization is closing, you don’t need to immediately need to go into condolence mode. Even in the disaster situations there may be people who are excited and eager to move in, and, similarly, even a well-planned, intentional program or project end can have its rough edges. When faced with news of a shutdown, be neutral, polite, and curious.


An organizational closure can bring up a lot of emotions, even when the ending is mostly positive. So it is better not to try and put a “silver lining” on it. Mentioning to the person going through the organization closure that at least they “won’t have to deal with [INSERT ANNOYING COWORKER NAME HERE} anymore” is not particularly helpful. If they bring it up, it is fine to agree with them, but it’s not the most helpful thing to try to put a positive spin on the situation if your friend is not feeling particularly positive about it.


Similarly, you don’t have to try and reassure the person that something better is going to come along. Life is long and mysterious and we don’t know what is going to come next. While it is good to be supportive and hopeful about the future, if the person you are dealing with doesn’t feel like anything good is on the horizon, allow them the space to sit with that feeling rather than trying to divert them because you are uncomfortable with the situation.

If you find you aren’t able to hold space for the big feelings that your friend is holding, you can certainly send this website along to your friend and let them know I also offer free closure calls to people closing or in discernment around closures. I’ve been through it, and I am happy to be a listening pair of ears!

Some Helpful Personas


The person or people who are facing down the end are likely struggling with feelings of regret about what they didn’t do or grief for the dreams and goals they weren’t able to achieve. Whether they were part of the founding team or a later addition, people who often pay the “passion tax” to join a mission-driven organization are looking to come away with a feeling that they are making a genuine impact on the planet. When their organization must close — usually due to no fault of an individual employee — that sense of purpose is abruptly wrenched from them.

Why not be the one who reminds them of all the good they were able to achieve during their time in operation? Thank them for their service and remind them that, no matter how long they existed, they did make a valuable contribution. When possible, find examples of other people thanking them for their work and let them know there is likely still more time for them to be of service on the planet.


The ending of any type of project or enterprise is full of various loose ends (no pun intended!) that need to be tied-up. As the final days of an organization draw near, it is often the case that there are fewer and fewer people around to sort out the crucial tasks necessary to completely close out. Why not offer a helping hand? Even if there is nothing specific for you to do, sometimes just being present and bearing witness is enough.

Worries for the future coupled with sadness about the past and present can easily cloud the mind and make it hard for your friends facing closure to focus. Sometimes just being a body double is enough to lift people’s spirits, shake feelings of isolation, and assist in getting them on track.

Alternatively, your friend/colleague may just want someone to distract them from what is going on. Whether that person is generally relieved or even happy the organization is closing or if they are feeling woeful, they may find that the work of shuttering the organization is just occupying too much of their mental space. Take them out for a drink or invite them to a movie to get their mind off work.


Finally, if you’ve been through a closure of your own, do share about it. So many organizations shutter every year (see our Museum of Closed NGOs for some!), and the more we talk about these organizational endings, the more we can normalize the idea that nothing lasts forever and good things can come from people gently releasing their work back into the wilds.

In addition to the free hotline I offer, I also have some self-assessment questions that I suggest people go through with a friend or colleague. You can be that friend or colleague!


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