What Not to Do When a Nonprofit Crisis Hits

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By Hokusai Katsushika (Image:Tsunami by hokusai 19th century.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

August 24, 2016; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

NPQ has written any number of stories about the benefits of using your networks when your organization runs into a full-blown potentially deadly crisis.

The disabled clients of the Three Rivers Center for Independent Living, a federally funded nonprofit in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, were surprised to hear of the sudden closing of the organization when they were sent letters a few weeks ago informing them they’d need to find a new provider by September 8th. Others were not as surprised. Although the 36-year-old organization had just moved to a new facility, where it established a fitness center and computer lab, that move may have been something of a Hail Mary pass that did not work out.

There were simply too many factors at play, though apparently no one is discussing them at this point, but we do know some things and the dynamic does not look good.

  • In 2013, Three Rivers lost a fee-for-service contract with the state, which reduced its budget from $25 million to $7 million and resulted in mass layoffs.
  • It went from having an enviable $6.4 million surplus to a $1.6 million deficit.
  • Its former headquarters, from which it moved, has been for sale for more than a year.
  • The organization’s longtime executive director, Stanley Holbrook, resigned in 2013. Since then, the organization has had three directors.
  • It gave back $186,000 in federal funding it received this year.

This is the first independent living center to go under in Pennsylvania in the 40 years of the program’s existence in that state. The group had been secretive about its problems, apparently not reaching out to colleague organizations for help.

“It seems like they threw up their hands and said, ‘We don’t know how to fix it,’” Matthew Seeley, executive director of the Statewide Independent Living Council, said Tuesday. That group now is organizing to try to serve the 900 constituents of Three Rivers.—Ruth McCambridge

  • Solomon Belette

    I am aware of at least a few nonprofits that have vanished with huge consequences for the clients and the communities they serve. How common is this phenomenon, is there a trend, and what can we do to avert these crisis situations with the kind of intervention that will manage and achieve smoother transitions? I have more questions than answers.

  • Janet Reasoner

    While the title says “What not to do…,” there are no actual recommendations in the article. Not so useful, IMO.