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When the Unthinkable Happens: “Your Program Has Been Defunded”

In the past month, I’ve spoken to multiple nonprofit organizations that received the dreaded letter announcing the unthinkable: “We regret to inform you that your funding allocation has been eliminated or reduced.”

In effect, they got the nonprofit version of a pink slip and told: “your program has been defunded.”


Ouch. What to do?




In at least three of the cases, the organization will no longer receive grants of more than $200,000. And these are organizations with tiny but mighty fundraising staffs of 2 or less people.

After the initial shock and upset, my recommendation is that it’s time to get into action. Once you’ve determined that the program MUST be funded and the services can’t be provided by a partner agency, then it’s time to get to work.

Here are my first five suggestions for HOW to tackle the unthinkable:

  1. Tell Everyone.
    Not in a begging, or “poor pity us” way. Share the facts: “We’ve been notified by a long-term funder that we will no longer receive their financial support of $xxx,xxx for our xxx program. Share that on your website, donate page, Facebook, at committee and staff meetings. Don’t hide the news.
  2. Tell People in Person.

    Now is the time to meet with long-time supporters in a group or one-on-one. People give up to 10 times MORE when you invite a gift in person. And research shows a face-to-face request is 34 times more successful than an email.

    Invite your supporters to an “Insiders Update” and do it soon. You may need to hold multiple meetings with groups of donors to get the word shared quickly. Invite their support with advice AND a contribution.

  3. Share a Story of One Person.

    You are in fact making this real for your supporters by having us get to know one child, mom, veteran, teen, dad or frail elderly, whose life will be different because of the changes you may have to make by eliminating or reducing services in the program.
  4. Invite Larger Gifts.

    While diving into the deep end of major gifts fundraising isn’t always something you want to do overnight, NOW is the time to talk about what a gift of $10k, $25k, or $50k will do. Talking about money allows you to raise more money.
  5. Invite Multi-Year Gifts and Pledges.

    You are now on a sprint to secure funding for the current year, but don’t forget that you’ll need to do this all over again next year. This is an excellent time to shift to a multi-year fundraising ask, especially at the major gift level.
  6. And don’t forget to invite monthly contribution requests at lower dollar amounts of $5, $10 and $25 a month. Be certain to paint a clear picture of what can be done to support that one person in the specific program at specific contribution levels.

Your first reaction might be panic and feel despair. Take the time to do that but keep it limited to a day or so. And please don’t spend time losing sleep while you worry.

Instead, create a plan to invite people who truly love your mission & programs to invest at higher levels.

In the past 16 years of coaching & training, I’ve watched nonprofit organizations weather some pretty awful funding storms by quickly getting into action.

In many cases, donors stepped up and made much larger gifts and thanked the nonprofit leadership for being so transparent. That’s what I want for you.

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