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When Sunsetting Your Nonprofit is the Hardest (and Best) Option

Posted by Kristina Gawrgy, Monisha Kapila, Angela Romans on Jun 1, 2022 11:05:08 AM


If there is a lesson from the last several years, it is that we have to look inward before we do anything else. Between the pandemic, the “Great Resignation,” political division, and heightened awareness of the ways racism and oppression has shaped everything we do in the nonprofit sector, we have been called to be more self-aware and reflective as leaders. We hope this story about how we sunset a nonprofit organization offers some learnings for nonprofit board members about reflection at organizational transition points.

In 2009, AchieveMission was founded as a nonprofit consulting firm. Its founding goal was to increase the impact achieved by nonprofits through enhancing the sector’s perception and practice of human capital management. Over time, the organization evolved to support organizations with the important adaptive leadership and intersectional race equity frameworks needed for equity-centered organizational practices and structures.

From 2009-2020, AchieveMission served over 84 organizations who continue to carry forward AchieveMission’s impact in structures, programs, practices, and culture. In 2020, the organization underwent an unexpected executive director transition. Before moving forward with the traditional path of a hiring process, the board and existing leadership decided to pause and assess three options: a new ED search, merger, or dissolution.

The board explored these options by focusing on three key questions:

  1. How does the current context and environment impact the future of the organization?
  2. How can the organization best contribute to the field?
  3. What is the board capacity needed in each scenario?

We made a very intentional decision to really assess the organization from the inside out. Given the context at that time, COVID-19 and its unknowns were a major concern, especially the financial context and potential for decreasing philanthropic support and fee-for-service opportunities that could impact AchieveMission in the future.

The board had to ask:

"Can this organization that we've been building survive and thrive through this, given the competition and the context?”

In looking at the organization's contributions to the field, the board asked itself:

“In this extraordinary moment, how can we best serve nonprofits? Is it important for AchieveMission to do this work, or should we support other organizations to do the work through other means? How should AchieveMission’s assets in people, intellectual property, and financial capital be best leveraged to support the field?”

In looking at board capacity, board members recognized that if AchieveMission was going to transition to a new strategy, merge with another organization, or hire a new ED, any of these situations would require a lot of hands-on work from the board in a time when members were really stretched.

Ultimately the board made the hardest decision for a nonprofit organization, to dissolve the organization and to share assets with the community. We believe this highlights the importance of nonprofit leaders looking inward, challenging ways of working, and considering when an organization may no longer need to exist in order to get to the most equitable results for our communities.

This case study details AchieveMission’s approach to these questions and lessons when navigating staff, operations, and the field when sunsetting an organization. We hope that by detailing the process of AchieveMission’s decision to sunset, this case study can serve as a resource for the social sector at large.

Read the Full Case Study

About the authors:

Kristina Gawrgy is the chief communications and community building officer at Independent Sector. She served on the AchieveMission board since 2019. Monisha Kapila is the Founder and Co-CEO of ProInspire and served on the AchieveMission board since 2015. Angela Romans is the founding Executive Director of Innovation For Equity and served as the AchieveMission Interim Executive Director during the sunset process.

Photo by Tomas Kirvėla on Unsplash

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