How to Rescue a nonprofit program
Photo by Inge Wallumrød

Karen’s 10 Concepts On How to Save Programs

Here are ten ways you can save, rescue, or improve a nonprofit program without adequate funding.

1. Change the Form, But Keep the Essence

The concept of form changing offers a wide array of possibilities for nonprofits. For example, St. Boniface’s Day Care Program changed from a daycare to a half-day preschool. They turned this service because of their island location. Their distance from most employers meant parents were frequently late for pick-ups placing the staff in numerous awkward predicaments. By changing into a preschool, St. Boniface kept the essence that is serving children with a quality program but changed the form.

2. Cut Income Producing Programming Last

Michael Kaiser, President of the Kennedy Center in a Wall St. Journal articles states, “When there are economic challenges, the first things that staff and boards cut are programming and marketing, and that’s the worst thing you can do. You guarantee yourself you’ll have less revenue next year, and that’s how sick organizations get really sick.”

3. Cut Other Budgets Items

Kaiser goes on to suggest budget cuts, “but where you cut is crucial.” In terms of arts programming, he’s never encountered a budget he couldn’t cut in the back of the house. In your organization, you have probably already made budget cuts. From conversations I’ve had with executive directors across nonprofits, organizations are finding a lot of great new ways to save money, and often reduce workloads by rethinking how they execute programs.

Be careful not to dismiss this one too quickly. Consider less apparent cuts, like reducing your fixed costs. What if you reduced your newsletter from four to three issues per year or from eight pages to six? Can you reevaluate your insurance needs or select a higher deductible?

4. New Alliances

Consider forming partnerships with organizations with who you successfully worked within the past. How about sharing back-office services like bookkeeping, technology, or finance or to buying together to obtain discounts on goods and services. What volume discounts might you receive?

5. Increase Your Income

Sure, you’ve already thought of this, but now after working through Maxwell’s Income Analysis Chart (see Added Value, Summer 2009), you know your real program costs, and you might consider increasing your fees? Or, what about offering premium services at a higher price?

6. Merge

Consider approaching another healthy organization to merge or even to merge just one program. Mergers work best when both assets and mission-related services exist. Mr. Meyers of the Moyer’s Foundation in a recent Chronicle of Philanthropy article advises, “If you put off difficult decisions too long, you put the whole organization at risk—and you make yourself very unattractive as a merger candidate.” What would happen if you worked with your friendliest competitor?


7. Find a New Nonprofit to Run the Program

Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee took over the Alzheimer Respite Care Program when Volunteers of America decided to end services in Manatee County. Is there a group willing or seeking to offer more services in your community?

8. Close it Down, but Keep the Lessons

PACE Center for Girls in Bradenton, closed their elementary school in a rented facility. However, in time, they hope to re-open the program in a facility they own. If you must close down a high-mission program, what lesson have you learned that you will build upon when you start it again? Are there any actions you can take now to improve a later start-up?

9. Keep the Vision and Find New Ways to Serve

The Suncoast Workforce Development Board opened, and then closed because of financial reasons, a donated Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream franchise to serve troubled youth with entrepreneurial interests. The Workforce Development Board continues to seek creative opportunities to help youth, and the Ben and Jerry’s experience sharpened their knowledge about what works.

10. Share the Wisdom

Girls Best Friend Foundation closed down after thirteen years of serving young women in the Chicago area. Their website offered a final report, program evaluation, and a summation of what worked. If you must close a program, can you find a way to share what you learned with the community? How about an article in your national newsletter or a blog entry or a workshop? Sir Alan Patrick Herbert writes, “Nothing is wasted, nothing is in vain: The seas roll over, but the rocks remain.”


Saving programs is a hero’s work. Fortunately, as a nonprofit leader, you’re up for the task. You have identified your mission priorities and the financial impact of each of your programs, with this information, you are ready to find a way to save programs that matter using the list above.

For more answers, check out this Nonprofit  CEO Library.

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Would you like to know more about how to save a program, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me, I’d love to help you, and your nonprofit, take the giant steps you need to succeed now.