Ending a community program is never easy. Considering the amount of time, energy and money that goes into planning, then launching and managing these initiatives, the decision to end a program shouldn’t be made lightly. Usually, there are going to be several factors to take into account before making this decision. One of those factors is the nonprofit’s annual budget.

Unfortunately, money is a limited resource, and if there’s not enough to go around, an organization might dissolve one or more programs to retain that money for other expenses or initiatives. But how do you know when to make this decision?

I’ve got some advice for you:

  1. Lack of Donor Interest

    Sometimes donor interests and community interests or needs don’t align. As nonprofits, our main job is serving the community, and that means their needs or interests should come before the donors’. But this is done with a particular cost.

    Because donors will give to the work that most interests them, projects that don’t capture donor interest aren’t likely to receive as many donations. Grants can be a substitute but are not always reliable or sustainable in the long run. If lack of donor interest is the reason your staff is considering dissolving a program, think about applying for additional grants, though make sure to have a clear understanding of what your staff and financials can handle.


  2. Limited Community Impact

    Data is important. Not only because data is used in grant reports but because data informs donors how their donations are impacting the community–a piece of information that is very important to millennial and gen z donors.

    If your community program isn’t giving you the data you thought it would, this is likely related to multiple factors. The community may have shown interest at a project’s launch but that interest has died down since. There’s also the possibility that something has changed in the community’s environment, and the project’s purpose is no longer needed. Think of how an organization loaning out neighborhood bicycles would have been affected when bike share apps became more common.

  3. Too Expensive to Manage

If you speak to someone who’s launched multiple nonprofit programs, they’re likely to tell you the most challenging part of any program is not the planning or execution. It’s the management, the upkeep. Because many programs are long-term, maintaining them is key. However, that’s easier said than done.

When examining your budget, you should consider a program’s operation costs such as rent, utilities and salaries/wages. Your staff might have thought the large grant they acquired would be enough to support the nonprofit’s finances and cover the salaries of program staff. But once the program launches and the numbers start coming in, well, they’re telling you another story. In this situation, you can either review your budget to determine if additional money can be allocated to the program, seek donor support, apply for a grant hoping the money will come through in time (not the best option), or bring the project to a gradual close.

Ultimately, the decision to end a program is never going to be an easy one. But the work nonprofits do isn’t easy by default, and sometimes you’ve got to make that executive decision.

If you’re interested in learning more about board management, schedule a free 30-minute consultation with me to see how we can work together.


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