With The End In Mind*: Building the infrastructure for better endings in civil society

Louise Armstrong
Stewarding Loss
Published in
10 min readMar 20, 2023


In the second of a series of three blogs, the team behind Stewarding Loss (Louise Armstrong, Cassie Robinson and Iona Lawrence) share a list of all the things needed to create a vibrant ecosystem for better endings in civil society.

*ref: Kathryn Mannix

Previously: Deep within all of us working hard in civil society is the assumption that the brave, bold, ambitious thing is to start something new, to chart uncharted waters, to grow something. But what if it’s time to grow a more nuanced, sophisticated version of what bravery looks like? What if the bravest thing trustees, leaders, staff or volunteers lead their organisations with the same energy, tenacity and vigour whilst holding the end in mind?

In the past month alone Stewarding Loss has heard from infrastructure organisations and charity leaders alike that they can sense a wave of closure and endings is on its way. CEOs exhausted from the past 3 years (and the 10 of austerity before that) are on their knees, recruitment is harder than ever as charities compete with profit making companies to offer workers a good deal, fundraising is tougher than ever in a time of constrained funder budgets — we can’t leave or wait for this to happen in an unthoughtful way, that will create further harm. Support and resources are needed now — this year — to prevent bad endings and — this decade — to start to invest in support for cyclical organisational patterns where growth is considered as readily as endings in the everyday life, leadership and governance of nonprofits.

In the next decade we need a paradigm shift in how endings are considered as part of the lifecycle of organisations across civil society and beyond. Underpinning this shift would be a transformation of mindsets and cultures that is commensurate with the scale of societal transitions underway. Civil society leaders, funders and stakeholders at all levels would have open hearts and open minds and be comfortable actively anticipating and designing endings of all kinds. People and communities would see closures, mergers, CEO transitions, programming ends, and all sorts of endings as just part of the cycle of change. A ‘growth at all costs’ mentality that places survival of an organisation above other considerations would be replaced by a continuous inquiry of loss and endings, as much as opportunities for growth and expansion.

The need for a thriving endings ecosystem

We’ve been considering what components of a thriving ecosystem could look like. One that is on par with the vibrant and supportive startup ecosystem, is itself part of an investment to the seeds of a new system we know needs to exist. The currently absent infrastructure that is needed to support ambitious and transformative work.

To make this ecosystem a reality, there are two key strategic areas that need investing in now::

1. Practical support and proper resourcing for well designed endings

These are based on the support Stewarding Loss has prototyped and the lessons we’ve learned along the way. Arguably many of these things just make good organisational sense, but they are particularly pertinent for those on the cusp or in the midst of a closure, ending or transition.

2. Funders understanding the role they play in endings and shifting their own practice

These shifts are focused on how funding is distributed, how resources shape beginnings and endings in organisations, as well as how funding can entrench things that are no longer working. It also extends into funders themselves considering when they might need to consider endings as part of their own organisational life cycles. .

Elements of a thriving ecosystem

To realise this vision of a flourishing ecosystem, we’ve started a list of elements, practical steps and offers to civil society that would usher in this new era of civil society leadership. This list is a starter for 10. We’re sharing it not because we believe we are the people to bring these to life nor host all of these things — but because we, via Stewarding Loss have been a catalyst for some of this work. This vision will need many people, groups and organisations to both embed some of these things into existing ways of doing things — and in some cases some new infrastructure and dedicated support.

These ideas have been generated through our work with over 100 people and organisations considering and designing an ending: a closure or merger, the end of a founder CEO’s leadership period, the end of a funding cycle, the termination of a programme. These ideas have also been informed and co-developed by 18 different funder representatives as part of a round table hosted on the 20th October to share the experience and testimony of closing of 2 organisations: the Small Charities Coalition and Campaign Bootcamp.

In an attempt to help you see what this work could look like in the real world, we’ve named possible partners or leaders for this work too

Civil society support:

1.Create a (resourced) community of practice to develop practice and learning for those supporting people to end well — Cassie will be hosting a monthly space for those wanting to explore this topic more. If you want to sign up, the first one will be on 20th April at 4pm. Register here.

2. Create a directory of support that those in the process of closing can access and ensure it’s easily discoverable through the channels that civil society orgs already us.

3. Active engagement and meeting with the Charity Commission to update them on where the work is. We spoke to them back in 2020 and a lot has changed since then. It’s important to understand their role in organisational endings.

4. Supporting good endings training- adapting existing Stewarding Loss content for different contexts and make that available to anyone wanting to bring this lens to their work.

5. A closure hotline: first point of call coaching conversations for those thinking about endings — currently offered pro-bono by Iona.

6. Offer strategy framing and narrative building / coaching for those looking to distil and reframe lessons from their endings, our experience is it really helps to have fresh eyes to support you to do this.

7. Mentorship scheme — for those experiencing closure- to be matched with those who have lived it before — taking inspiration from the Rotary Charities Systems Change coaching model.

8. Experiment with a dedicated ‘decelerator’ space for those closing to be held and tended to — bringing all of the above elements together it one place (sing up to hear more / get involved here).

9. Capacity building for infrastructure organisations — who are often the first point of call for groups struggling to make this part of their existing offerings and support.

Supporting groups and organisations to evolve before closing:

10. Normalise conscious constituting — don’t assume legal organisations are needed and are the only way to do the work and access resources.

11. Invest and make space for designing healthy operational structures and cultures needed to deliver on equity and diversity ambitions that an organisation may have — Read more about the Campaign Bootcamp closure story for why this is so key.

12. Enabling upstream governance transformation and the capita for groups and organisations to evolve, before they have to close — the Transformational Governance learning cohort and community are one of the groups who are exploring this.

13. Transforming boards — opening up board conversations about succession, and endings with a format/toolkit for supporting people to have these conversations — work with the Young Trustees Movement, Association of Chairs and OnBoard to do this. Or experiment with a group of funders willing to prototype this.

14. Care-ful /radical HR Lab — a focused and time bound space to develop the templates and operating policies fit for the 21st century/ that centre people and care, alongside legal work. Our experience shows that the constraint of legal requirements and fixed policies relative to relational approaches that feel appropriate create lots of tension at the end of organisations. Beyond the Rules are doing some brilliant prototyping of parts of this and groups like RadHR are paving the way for more.

15. Continue to socialise the Stewarding Loss tools and canvas that are focussed on supporting organisations to pay attention to relevance and purpose as an ongoing strategic enquiry.

Collective spaces

16. Listening and sharing sessions for people looking to explore the language and practise of talking about endings out loud- like Death Cafe meets Spaces for Listening, but for civil society. Places that bring the skill and holding for an emerging community of grief tenders to the fore.

17. For people who’ve come to the last steps in their organisational ending. A ritual where their last testimony is borne witness to by those in the ecosystem for whom the stories, experiences and seeds of the lessons will live on (naturally making sure this isn’t performative or extractive) — we prototyped this with a recent event where the Small Charities Coalition and Campaign Bootcamp had their stories witnessed by an influential group of funder representatives.

18. A ritual for your ecosystem — marking the end of the organisations journey, with those you’ve journeyed with and will continue to work with — the equivalent of a funeral for the organisation, like Small Charities Coalition closing event.

19. A list of people and groups to work with if you want to design a ritual or memorable moment/experience for your organisation — groups like Community Rituals accessing the burgeoning grief tending community or freelance facilitators who hold space for groups.

20. There are learning groups gathering around the book Hospicing Modernity which offers a range of activities for shared enquiry into civilisational endings. Or the Life x Death Huddle hosted by Christina Watson kicking off in May.

Wider advocacy: Communications / narrative shifting work

21. A campaign to shift the taboo around endings being a bad thing and the need to move away from a growth–at-all-costs mentality.

22. Work with sector press to do a series that challenges the negative frame around closures and offers alternative perspectives.

23 A high profile book- to bring focus to the topic and open the dialogue/conversation about the importance of this topic — Malkia Devich-Cyril is writing a book about Radical Loss.

24. A curation of stories and experiences from those who have experienced closure — an equivalent to the book ‘With the End in Mind’ by Kathryn Mannix, but going far beyond human endings.

25. Find new framings for endings that suggest how being well-practised in them is important for many things e.g climate preparedness and rehearsing loss that might come from different aspects of the polycrisis.

26. Tracking how the narratives around loss, death and endings are shifting overtime. Louise has started a substack publication Living Grief: Living Change to explore this.


27. A closure tracker / index of endings, research that demonstrates the scale of the need and tracks organisational closure trends — like the NCVO almanac but for endings. Spotting trends and insights into where further support might be needed.

28. Research into what can be learnt from the startup ecosystem and what that means for the ending ecosystem.

29. Research and learning from other industries and sectors that have and are experiencing closure e.g. failed startups, mining communities, obsolete technologies, fossil fuel industries.

30. Research into the role of founders and founder syndrome, the difficulty of letting go and how that correlates to organisational closure and endings. Supporting people to leave roles well as Naomi Hattaway does.

Where investment and funding is needed

31. Moving beyond project and restricted funding towards more unrestricted funding in movements, communities and organisations, but ensuring unrestricted funding is seen as being ‘alive’ — skilled practices of adaptation are crucial for core or unrestricted funding.

32. More cross sector collaboration to invest in un-constituted groups.

33. Funding the field: developing a new model for funding and investing in new infrastructures for this work. Paul Hamlyn Foundation have seeded this work to date, who will follow?

Funder practices to support this

34. An intro session for funders about designing endings well and ways to open up a conversation about why this matters both internally and with partners — we prototyped this with EsmeeFairbairn in Nov 2022. Could one of the funder networks like the Funders Collaborative Hub offer this to those they work with as the first place we tested the ideas with funders back in 2020.

35. Develop a short training/learning offering (of 2–3 sessions) with practical application — something that ACF, the Environmental Funders Network or Ariadne network might want to instigate.

36. Philea’s new Philanthropy in Transition Lab that will focus on ending’s as an important area for funders to pay more attention to. It’s happening on March 23rd and 24th.

37. A cross funder action learning set on where endings are showing up in their work.

38. Start to explore what good exit strategies for place based work looks like — Local Trust, LocalMotion and Place Matters are all starting to explore this.

39. Practising ending grant relationships well.

40. Prototype good endings for programmatic and collaborative work. Gill Wildman from Plot Studio has prototyped some work in this space.

41. Pay attention to the trends and practices associated with a foundation spending out and down.

42. Funders considering what mergers or closing could look like for themselves.

43. Dream about what the next models for organising funding and investments and what community wealth building could be and look like.

Bringing all of this to life will itself take a rich and vibrant ecosystem of people and practice and resources committed over the long term. Naturally there are pockets of practices and people already doing some of these things,some which we’ve referenced — others we’re yet to know about . We need to further grow and nurture this capacity for civil society and beyond. It will take time to realise the full potential and ambition of this work — but an investment in this is an investment in a healthy and thriving civil society in the longer term. If you are creating or have energy to develop any of the things we’ve explored here — we’d love to hear from you.

Next steps for us will be to do the next stage design work for the Decelerator idea in June 2023. If you’d like to be part of that journey, get in touch.



Louise Armstrong
Stewarding Loss

#livingchange / navigating / designing / facilitating / doula of change