Non-Profit Government Shutdown Survival Guide

votingWith the government shutdown underway, many non-profits may be confused about how to proceed. With the debt ceiling deadline looming on October 17th, many organizations find themselves proceeding with great caution. However, this is also an opportunity for Chicago area non-profits, social ventures, and other social change agents to consider taking a slightly different approach.

So in that spirit, here are a few basic things to consider to make this crisis somewhat more bearable:

  • Know Exactly How Your Clients Will Be Affected - Various publications ranging from Non-Profit Quarterly to and Mother Jones magazine outline the direct impact of the shutdown. (You can also find information at This knowledge will be helpful when making critical decisions for how non-profit programs are implemented, allowing non-profits and social change organizations to be much more client-focused in their approach.
  • Consider An Open Source Approach to Software - and Collaboration - Many non-profits choose open source equivalents to commercial software to save money and open up services. (One good example is the Chicago Public Library making LibreOffice available to patrons). But open sourcing development and collaboration - allowing other organizations to take models, build on them, and create "forks" can enhance sustainability. (In addition, exploring potential partnerships with other non-profits, smaller organizations, and L3Cs/Benefit corporations can also be beneficial). Going open source can be a challenge, but thankfully, there are resources to assist in making the transition such as the NOSI primer (which is currently being revised)
  • If You Receive Federal Grants, Please Double-check - As this article rightly points out, although some federal programs have integrated some contingencies, performing due diligence is not just a smart idea - it can provide for adequate planning and preparation to avoid later frustration and heartache.
  • Make Long-Range Plans and Rethink Your Strategies - Our only previous government shutdown seventeen years ago lasted about three weeks - there is no way to determine how long this current shutdown will last. As you inventory your non-profit's current situation, attempt to see potential opportunities for partnership, services, funding and other resources. This is not a time to live in the age of the silo, nor is it the time to be a "gatekeeper" - adopting an open source approach will mean the difference between providing services and shutting doors. However...
  • You Can Make An Impact And Maintain Professional Standards - Many non-profit workers take the view that non-profits are not a business, and they do not require as much in terms of maintaining professional standards around hiring, bookkeeping, and other day-to-day activities. (In simpler terms, it's much harder for a mission-driven organization to make an impact on the community if the electricity is turned off). As this article from Nonprofit HR points out, staying on top of current trends in non-profit administration is always critical, and being able to adjust to sudden changes in situation is a hallmark of an efficient organization. Although seemingly trivial, this is one area that non-profits and other social change organizations must stay vigilant.

Regardless of where we lie on the political spectrum, those of us whose careers have centered around social change and social impact will be affected by this shutdown. The impact may potentially be incalculable, but nonetheless, there is an opportunity for Chicago area non-profits, social change organizations, mission-driven businesses, and others who share our beliefs to move slowly, but surely, towards the 21st century. Perhaps the twin ideas of "peer progressivism" and "digital excellence" can be more than just buzzwords in the metropolitan Chicago area....perhaps they can be great examples for the rest of the country to follow....

Any other ideas about how non-profits/social change organizations can survive the government shutdown? Anything that I have omitted? Any other thoughts to explore? Please feel free to share them below. In addition, you're always welcome to contact me privately via Linked In (just mention One Cause At A Time in your note) or via private e-mail. And as always, thanks for reading!

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