A Good Day To Die: Some Reasons To Call It Quits

One of the major goals of The Wind Down is to help shift the discourse around non-profit endings so that the immediate assumption isn’t that the organization or project closure is the result of loss or failure. Not only is it too often the case that outsiders hold this belief, sometimes people inside the organization are guilty of it too. People will dissuade themselves from even considering closing because things are “going well”.

The truth of the matter is that there are all sorts of reasons for an organization to stop existing, and the more people know about them, witness them, or take part in them, the more they can (hopefully!) move away from a knee-jerk negative reaction to sunsets. Here are a few reasons I’ve come across along the way.


This might be my favorite closure reason. If an organization accomplished what they set out to accomplish and can neatly close down, what a win for everyone! One of my favorite examples of this is the We Charge Genocide campaign that ran from 2014-2016 in Chicago. Inspired by the 1951 We Charge Genocide petition to the United Nations, they were able to raise funds to send 8 young Chicagoans to Geneva to charge genocide against the United States for protracted police violence.

Upon return they created an informative report and organized in their communities for a short time before slowly winding down in 2016. They came to charge genocide, they did, and then they stopped!

Another fantastic example is the WaterSHED project, which was created as a 10-year initiative to help expand access to clean water in Cambodia. The goal from the outset was to support capacity-building on the ground and then leave. And despite many challenges , they left when they said they would. WIN! (Seriously, read former-ED Geoff Revell’s article about it. It’s so good.)


Social change work is not one size fits all. If the organization is too small or too big to do the work, it might be time to either change shape or shut down. In addition, sometimes an organization — or an organization’s headquarters — are too far away from where the service is needed or can best be delivered. One example that relates well to this is EveryChild’s closure.

EveryChild was a UK international development charity formed in 2001 that operated field offices in Eastern Europe and the developing world. In 2011, the organization intiated a series of strategic changes that devolved power to local agencies and eventually resulted in the creation of a new international alliance, Family for Every Child. Thus the decision was taken to close EveryChild and all its field offices from the period between 2013 and 2016, and leave the work to the people who could more effectively make an impact in the lives of the children and families they wished to support.

“Concerns about lack of sustainability may be financial (loss of funding or a growing cost base), a loss of key people (staff, volunteers or trustees), a lack of shared direction, recognition that others doing similar things, there are duplications or inefficiencies, or a growing concern that your work is no longer viable or relevant in a changing wider context.”

Sensing An Ending: A Toolkit for Nonprofit Leaders to help decide, design and deliver better organisational endings by the Stewarding Loss Collective


Adjacent (and maybe overlapping?) with success is the idea that the organization just isn’t needed or won’t work anymore. Many initiatives and groups in the civil society space are started with the humble vision of “working themselves out of a job”. Sometimes this happens! And then sometimes the situation on the ground just changes. In this 1999 Guardian article, the writers outline how war in former Yugoslavia quickly put an end to a flourishing network of NGOs committed to growing civic society in the wake of political change. In the blink of an eye, the terrain changed and the groups could no longer function as the vision of a free and flowering Yugoslavia was no longer viable.


Many organizations grow out of the vision of a single inspired leader or group of leaders. Oftentimes when a founder or team of founders decide to step away, they can leave shoes entirely too big to fill. Sometimes it isn’t necessarily the founder, but just a really strong leader who the board struggles or is unable to replace. Stories of such transitions can be found on Naomi Hattaway’s excellent Leaving Well podcast.


So now we are getting into some of the stickier ones. Organizational dischord is certainly at the heart of some pretty epic closures. Conflicts and the inability to functionally tackle them are a big part of what led me to start asking whether these endings could happen better than I’d seen them happen.

One well-documented and notable example of such an ending was UK-charity Campaign Bootcamp’s sunset, which was sparked by difficult and, ultimately, irreconcilable issues around race, class, privilege and power. Campaign Bootcamp, an organization that had been a darling of the UK charity sector was formed to support people in gaining the skills they needed to launch successful campaigns for social change. However, when the change that needed to happen was “inside the house”, the leadership was unable to reach an equitable and just resolution.


Lack of funds is very often a reason that an NGO will shutter its doors. Whether it is a lack of foundation funds, money from individual donors, or tuition related to enrollment (a challenge facing many US universities as of late), cash-strapped organizations struggle to meet the needs of their employees, partners, and the communities they aim to serve. Low funds and inability to cover costs are extremely valid reasons to close up shop.

In a future post, I plan to cover how this sort of ending might be managed, particularly from a fundraising and fundraiser’s perspective.


An organization is only as good as its people and if you can’t hire and retain capable people to do the work, you will struggle to fulfill your mission and realize your vision. Non-profit staff members are frequently overworked, underpaid, and highly prone to burnout. While many non-profits profess lofty values of care, far too often they fail to realize them in their employment practices.

Even when your organization does offer great benefits and a manageable workload, competition for talented workers can be challenging when competing with opportunities in government and private sector. If your group or initiative can’t offer the sort of salaries and/or job security those others can you may struggle to hire the people you need, attract good volunteers, and/or build the capacity to drive forward your mission.

This by no means an exhaustive list. What other reasons have you seen for NGOs to die? Lemme know in the comments!


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