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A Graceful Exit: How One Foundation Approached Sunsetting a Successful Initiative

Posted by on July 28th, 2015
Posted in Blog, Nonprofit Communications, Nonprofit Messaging   

If you are a foundation planning to phase out an initiative, knowing how to leave grantees—and the larger community—feeling ignited rather than deflated is probably on your mind.

You’ve spent the last several years investing in and coaching your grantees, and it’s time to transition the leadership and let the grantees take the reins. How can you support them, celebrate their successes, and encourage others to join your cause?

These were the questions Blue Shield Against Violence, a program of the Blue Shield of California Foundation, faced last year at the end of their wildly successful Strong Field Project. After a powerful 3-year effort, they were committed to keeping up the momentum in preventing domestic violence. Their deep commitment to the leaders of the domestic violence prevention movement in California meant they couldn’t just shut the door and turn out the lights.

To ensure the legacy of the Strong Field Project, our client wanted to communicate the project’s success in a way that would leave people feeling proud of their accomplishments, while also eager to aim for still more successes.

As their investment came to a close, nuances in communication made all the difference in how and why the project is revered in the field of domestic violence prevention. Here are three lessons Blue Shield of California Foundation thoughtfully embraced, to ensure the Strong Field Project had the biggest impact possible:

1. Recognize it’s the beginning, not the end. For your grantees, this may be a tough moment. Can they truly thrive without your support? Of course they can. But it helps to prepare your grantees for what’s ahead. Doing so will help them continue with confidence to promote the project’s success, highlight the critical importance of the field as a whole, and encourage others to take on similar work. Viewing the success of a project as the start of something big—think the domino effect—will empower your grantees as they move into the next phases of their work.

Working together with Blue Shield, Mission Minded began developing a communications timeline and a suite of tools almost a year before the program formally ended.

2. Make tools easy and accessible to new leaders in the field. Blue Shield wisely recognized that the tools they had developed and funded would only be used if people knew where to find them with ease.

With this in mind, Mission Minded developed an inspiring visual identity and redesigned the Strong Field Project website to act as a timeless central hub. With the theme “Onward”, the site hosts a compelling, heart-felt video, vital case studies, contact information for colleagues throughout the state, and other downloadable tools. Easy access to these tools means that the leaders in the field will always feel “stronger together.”

3. Don’t hesitate to cheerlead your grantees. Every foundation believes in its grantees, and celebrating them and the impact they made possible gives them the boost they need to carry on without you.

Blue Shield has thoughtfully transitioned parts of this program and has remained in contact with the grantees. Perhaps a participant in the Strong Field Project best summed up the real success of this work: “People aren’t afraid of the tough conversations now. Now it’s a field poised to lead itself.”

What successes have you had? Share your tips with us in the comments below!


Sarah R. Moore, our Director of Brand Strategy, joined Mission Minded from a career that has spanned both the private and nonprofit sector.

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