Announcing the Care-full Closures Fund

Iona Lawrence
May 11 · 7 min read

Stewarding Loss is pleased to be announcing a new pilot fund: ‘The Care-full Closures Fund’. This fund will deliver ground-breaking support to 4 organisations to support them to consider and design an organisational closure or merger. This blog outlines where this work came from, the questions we’re asking as we embark on this important next step and an invitation to get involved. This fund has been made possible by the generous support of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

We often don’t have or make time to reflect on endings, either individually or within our communities. Over the last 12 months, loss has been a recurring theme for many of us and something that continues to be difficult to process.

From an organisational perspective, endings can signal failure, loss, crisis and controversy. It doesn’t have to be this way. Endings in civil society can signal a healthy ecology — if something is no longer needed then it may mark that the desired outcomes have been achieved. Endings can provide opportunities for individuals, organisations and civil society more broadly. More than this we believe better organisational endings are vital for all of us in civil society, to embed a healthy learning culture that challenges the myth that all endings are inherently bad and acknowledges the vibrancy of a healthy civil society which is in a state of constant cyclical renewal.

Since 2019, the Stewarding Loss project has been exploring organisational endings. Our work is rooted in the belief that endings and new beginnings are a part of the natural cycle of growth, change, renewal and innovation within the nonprofit sector — and a signifier of necessary systemic shifts. There is little talk of loss and endings throughout the life cycle of nonprofits and there is all too limited resource for and ambition around what better endings looks like for organisations. By better we mean endings that are designed proactively, intelligently, responsibly and compassionately.

What we’ve noticed

Over the course of hundreds of conversations in the past year, organisations have shared with us a range of things that stand in the way of better organisational endings. These include:

  • A lack of open conversation about endings in the sector means that endings are often a ‘taboo subject’
  • A ‘survival at all costs’ mentality can set in amongst some trustees and staff which prevents decisions around endings being taken early enough for closures or mergers to be designed and planned carefully and intentionally
  • There are lots of coaches, facilitators, advisers and organisations who can support organisations to consider and design better endings but these people can be hard to identify as there isn’t a public community of these people
  • Nonprofits need time and money in order to benefit from the skill and expertise that is available

In the words of a nonprofit leader interviewed in 2021: “This is structural, if things ended well in the sector, the sector would be healthier overall.”

How we’ve responded

Rooted in what we heard, we developed first versions of some resources to stimulate discussion and action on better organisational endings. First, we created Sensing An Ending: a resource for those organisations that need immediate support with how to face closure centred on 7 principles for better organisational endings. Second, we’ve published Staying Close to Loss which is an introduction to the idea of continual enquiry in an organisations’ life span — where loss and endings are considered within organisational strategy as ordinarily as ‘growth.’

What we still want to know

As we look ahead we’re now in a position to work alongside organisations considering closure or merger so we can test what support and approaches might be most useful and meaningful. We’re still holding many questions including:

  • If an organisation is anticipating an organisational ending, what do they need to start considering, and when?
  • What role can design play in this journey?
  • What practices and resources can help?
  • What are the conditions (and perhaps even incentives) in which organisations and their leaders feel comfortable to raise their hand and say ‘we’re thinking about ending’ in a way that offers enough time, enough care and doesn’t necessarily mean they will definitely close?
  • What experiences do people have of going through an organisational ending and what support and resources do they find helpful and valuable? What else do they need?
  • What is being learned about well designed organisational endings? What can those who are leading an organisational ending today learn from those who have been in their shoes before?

The Care-Full Closures Fund

As we now turn to testing our thinking in the real world we are pleased to announce that the Paul Hamlyn Foundation has provided funding for up to 4 organisations to be supported to anticipate, consider and design an ending.

Who is this fund for?

This fund is open to nonprofit organisations of any size who are considering closure and are wanting to explore their options carefully, intentionally and with a design-led approach.

What do we mean by the ending or closure of an organisation in this context? We mean simply that an organisation in its current form is considering coming to an end. This means it might merge with another or it might close while handing over certain programmes or services to another. (This fund is therefore not for those looking to design the ending of individual projects or programmes).

What stage should you be at?

We are open to organisations from across the various stages anticipating an organisational ending.

As outlined in our Sensing an Ending Toolkit, if you are anticipating an organisational ending perhaps all you have at the moment is a shared sense that your work might need to stop or change. Or this might be something you and your colleagues or trustees might have had at the back of your minds for many years but recent events have hastened the idea.

If you’ve only just begun thinking about how to take those next steps and aren’t sure what they might look like, that’s a good starting point. As an organisation you might have:

  • Achieved your original purpose or feel that the need for it has reduced;
  • Lost the funding and resources you need to carry on but would like to keep that purpose alive in some capacity;
  • Be considering a merger with an adjacent organisation and want to help design a bespoke strategy to deliver it well for all parties involved.

Whatever it might be, we want to help you start a conversation with your stakeholders, both externally and at all levels internally, to navigate that process well.

In particular, we’d love to hear from you if you’re a civil society organisation that:

  • Is interested in collaborating on a considered and reflective process of ending or evolving
  • Would like that process to be inclusive of all stakeholders, especially across hierarchies
  • Can identify a core internal group to work with Deeds and Words on a strategy around that change or closure.
  • Is interested in working with a range of external partners and practitioners
  • Would benefit from a library of resources and shared learning on designing and delivering ‘good endings’
  • Could be ready to start this work in the next 4–5 months (in the autumn / winter of 2021)

What support will you get?

We are in a position to offer up to 4 organisations paid for time with experienced consultants Caroline Ellis, Delia Barker and Faye Davies at the firm Deeds and Words. Alongside them Iona Lawrence, co-lead of Stewarding Loss, will also support. Organisations will also be given a grant of up to £4,000 to fund staff time and associated costs for this work. Due to the bespoke nature of this work, each of the grantees will work with Deeds And Words to develop an agreement of how they want to work together.

In time the knowledge and learning from these grants will be shared in our Care-Full Closures community of practice to inform wider practice in the field of organisational endings and closures.

Interested? Here’s how to register your interest

We are considering applications on a rolling basis. So please complete this form to tell us what position / stage you and your organisation are at, or get in touch with Delia (delia@deedsandwords.co.uk) for an informal conversation about your organisation’s position. Any questions about the fund should also be emailed to Delia.

Other ways to get involved:

This funding programme is part of a wider emergent body of work to test our thinking and support organisations facing closure imminently along with those looking to explore possible endings in an upstream way. This work includes:

  • Care-full Closures: A community of practice — a network of practitioners who can support organisations to design their endings
  • Ongoing listening — a new series of peer-to-peer circles to create space for conversation about organisational endings facilitated by Janice Johnson
  • A series of events — that will bring this work into the wider consciousness of civil society organisations curated by Ivor Williams (keep your eyes on our social media for more information)
  • Partnerships with networks and umbrella bodies to share our work and support with them and their members
  • An enquiry specifically for funders

Get in touch with iona@ionaconsultancy.com to find out more about all this work.

Stewarding Loss

Stewarding Loss

Supporting civil society to dedicate the time, energy, care and resource to endings that it does to beginnings. Reframing loss and endings, to be seen as an essential and positive force for transformation.

Iona Lawrence

Written by

Iona is a freelance strategy consultant. Previously she set up the Jo Cox Foundation, worked in the Calais refugee camp and campaigned for Save the Children.

Stewarding Loss

Supporting civil society to dedicate the time, energy, care and resource to endings that it does to beginnings. Reframing loss and endings, to be seen as an essential and positive force for transformation.