When Funding Stops: How Nonprofits Can Outlast a Government Shutdown
How nonprofits can outlast a government shutdown

Have you ever wondered what happens to nonprofit organizations when the government shuts down and funding stops? With the looming debt crisis and threat at the start of the 2024 fiscal year, many American citizens are awaiting the final decision from the government. Regardless of how nerve-wracking the prospect of millions of citizens losing funding is, we need to do everything we can to ensure the safety and security of our loved ones, businesses, and organizations. In this article, we will talk about how nonprofits can outlast a government shutdown.

As a nonprofit, you work tirelessly to serve your community and make a difference. But what happens when politicians play games, and funding sources dry up? How do you keep the lights on and continue operations? Government shutdowns happen, and nonprofits need to be prepared.

The good news is there are strategies you can implement now to withstand funding disruptions when they come. By diversifying income, cutting costs, and rallying public support, your nonprofit can outlast even the longest shutdown. Staying mission-focused, flexible, and financially savvy will help ensure you're able to serve your community no matter what happens in Washington. With some planning and determination, you've got this!

Understanding Government Shutdowns and How They Impact Nonprofits

As a nonprofit, you likely rely on government funding to operate and serve your community. So when the government shuts down, it can be scary not knowing when funding will resume. But don’t panic—with some preparation, you can weather the storm.

A government shutdown halts all non-essential government services and funding. If your grants or contracts haven’t been fully funded yet, payments will stop. As a precaution, cut non-essential costs in case of a prolonged shutdown. Try to reduce employee hours or put non-critical projects on hold.

Next, diversify your funding sources. Don’t rely solely on government funding, but also pursue donations, events, crowdfunding campaigns, and corporate sponsorships. When funding is cut off, your other sources can help fill the gap.

It is also important to build an emergency fund. Having cash reserves gives you a financial cushion in case funding is disrupted abruptly. Aim for 3 to 6 months of operating expenses.

Other funding options: Stay in touch with your program officer and grant administrator. Ask if there are any options for accelerated funding or exceptions that would allow funding to continue during a shutdown. Be prepared to justify how stopping funds would irreparably harm your programs and community.

While government shutdowns are outside of your control, you can take steps to ensure they don’t jeopardize your nonprofit’s mission. Diversifying funds, cutting costs, and emergency planning will help create a more sustainable organization, shutdown or not. Stay positive!

Creating an Emergency Financial Plan for Your Nonprofit

With funding uncertainties, nonprofits need an emergency plan to survive potential government shutdowns or budget cuts.

person putting coin in a piggy bank
Photo by cottonbro studio on Pexels.com

Build a cash reserve fund

Having cash on hand is key. Aim for at least 3 to 6 months of operating expenses in a reserve fund as a buffer. Set aside money whenever possible from fundraising campaigns, events, or excess revenue. Make contributing to this fund an ongoing priority.

If you have healthy reserves, use them to pay for essential costs like rent, utilities, insurance premiums, and employee salaries.

Once the shutdown ends and funding resumes, rebuild your cash reserves to prepare for any future disruptions. Ask donors for emergency contributions and hold special fundraising campaigns emphasizing the importance of cash reserves. Consider opening a separate high-yield savings account just for your reserves to keep the funds accessible but separate from your operating budget.

Cut costs

Look for ways to reduce spending in case funding is disrupted. Things like limiting travel, reducing office space, or renegotiating with vendors and suppliers can help lower overhead costs. Be ready to make temporary cuts or furloughs if necessary.

Diversify funding sources

Don't rely solely on government grants and contracts. Pursue funding from individuals, foundations, corporations, and alternative sources. A diverse funding base means you're less vulnerable if any single source dries up. Stay up-to-date with fundraising trends and tools to open new avenues of support.

Plan alternative programs or services

Consider ways to generate income beyond government funding. Maybe there are programs, events or consulting services your nonprofit can offer. What are your areas of expertise? This can be a viable source of income. Or look for ways to partner with local businesses or other organizations. Having alternative revenue streams, even if small, provides financial stability.

Communicate with stakeholders

Let members, donors, and the community know about how shutdowns or budget cuts may impact your nonprofit. Be transparent about your emergency plan and what people can do to support your organization. Ask for input and encourage advocacy to put pressure on government officials. Working together, nonprofits and stakeholders can weather financial storms.

With prudent planning and management, nonprofits can survive periods where the tap of government funding is turned off. An emergency financial plan gives you options so you can continue serving your mission even in uncertain times.

Adjusting Programs and Services to Decrease Costs

When government funding is cut or temporarily halted during a shutdown, nonprofits have to make some tough decisions to reduce costs. While it may seem dire, focus on your mission and adapt programs. This will help see you through.

Adjusting programs and services may require postponing or canceling certain events or initiatives, at least for a while. Prioritize the events that will bring in the most capital for your nonprofit to sustain itself. Look at what’s coming up, and determine what’s essential and what could be pushed back or done without. Speak with program managers and staff to evaluate what’s really critical. Some options to consider include:

  • Pausing or slowing programs that require significant funding or resources. Things like capital campaigns, building projects or service expansions could be delayed.
  • Reducing hours or closing temporarily. You may need to cut back on business hours or close for a few days. Let your community know in advance about any impacts to access.
  • Relying more on volunteers and pro bono services. Tap into your volunteer base and see if some roles usually filled by paid staff could be done by volunteers, at least short-term. Lawyers, accountants, and others may donate their services.
  • Asking funders for grace periods or extensions. Approach government agencies, foundations and corporate sponsors and request temporary relief from reporting deadlines or leniency to stretch available funding. Many will work with nonprofits facing hardship.

Bonus Note: Remember To Stay Honest!

During this difficult time, focus on your mission and remember why your work is so important. Stay positive and transparent, and communicate any changes in services with your community, funders and local government. Their continued support will help bridge the gap until full funding resumes. Though painful, adjusting programs and tightening the budget will position your nonprofit to rebound quickly once the crisis passes. Stay strong—this too shall pass! And when it does, your nonprofit will emerge more resilient and focused on what really matters.

Tap Into Lines of Credit

Brazilian reals, money & banking

When government funding dries up during a shutdown, nonprofits can tap into lines of credit to stay afloat. These financial lifelines will also help bridge the gap until funding is restored.

Lines of Credit

A line of credit is a preset borrowing limit you can access as needed. Arrange for a line of credit with your bank before a shutdown so you have it in place if funding stops. Draw from your line of credit to pay for short-term costs, then pay it back once normal funding resumes. Look for a line of credit that does not charge fees if unused. Compare terms from different banks to find an affordable option in case you need to utilize it during a funding disruption.

Additional Options

If cash reserves and lines of credit are not enough, explore other alternatives like:

  • Take out a short-term loan from a bank, private lender, or nonprofit loan fund. Make sure you understand all fees and interest charges before borrowing.
  • Ask board members for personal loans or donations. Be extremely cautious with this approach to avoid conflicts of interest.
  • Apply for emergency grants from private foundations and corporations. Many offer fast-track grant programs for nonprofits impacted by events like government shutdowns.
  • Collaborate with similar nonprofits to share resources or cut costs. Look for ways to cooperate on back-office functions, share workspaces or jointly fundraise.
  • Make cuts to discretionary spending like travel, consulting, or new equipment. Only cut costs that will not directly impact programs and services.
  • Use credit cards as a last resort, if at all possible. This can damage your credit and result in high-interest charges, though some cards offer 0% intro APRs that may help in a crisis. Pay balances off quickly once funding is restored.

With proactive planning, tapping into reserves, and other options, nonprofits can survive the sudden loss of government funding during tumultuous times. Staying financially resilient will give you stability through any challenges that arise.

Fundraising During a Government Shutdown

Treasure chest png sticker, money

When government funding stops, nonprofits still need to keep the lights on and continue serving their communities. While it may seem counterintuitive, a government shutdown is actually an opportune time to ramp up your fundraising efforts. People are more likely to donate when they see the direct impact that budget cuts and funding freezes have on organizations they care about.

Reach Out to Major Donors

Major donors are the lifeblood of many nonprofits. Call or set up in-person meetings with people who have given $1,000 or more in the past. Explain the challenges the shutdown has created for your organization and the people you serve. Ask if they would consider making an additional gift to help bridge the funding gap. Many major donors will step up when the need is clearly articulated.

Start a Crowdfunding Campaign

Online crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and CrowdRise make it easy to start a campaign to raise money for a specific need. Tell the story of how your nonprofit has been impacted, set a fundraising goal, and ask people to chip in whatever they can to help. Share the campaign on social media, in newsletters, and on your website. Crowdfunding campaigns do best when they have a sense of urgency, so a government shutdown is an ideal time to launch one.

Apply for Emergency Grants

Private foundations and corporate grantmakers often provide emergency funding for nonprofits facing unforeseen circumstances like a government shutdown. Do some research to find funders in your area of work that offer fast-turnaround grants. Apply as soon as possible, expressing how shutdown-related budget cuts threaten your ability to provide critical services. While competition may be high, emergency grants can be a quick way to generate essential funding.

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Don’t Stop Asking

Even when times seem especially tough, keep making the ask. Continue sending out donation appeals through newsletters, social media, and your website. While response rates may be lower, many loyal donors will still give if they understand the need. And if new donors make their first gift during this time, they are more likely to remain dedicated supporters for the long run. Consistent fundraising, especially during challenging periods, is key to nonprofit sustainability.

A government shutdown creates difficulties, but also opportunities, for nonprofit fundraising. By taking action quickly, articulating urgent needs, and continuing to spread your message, organizations can outlast periods of lost government funding. Nonprofits exist to serve the community, so rallying that community's support is often the best path forward in times of crisis. We'll disucss this more in the next section.

Connecting With Community Leaders and Local Businesses

Community Pool ConstructionThe new community

Connecting with community leaders and local businesses is key to surviving a government shutdown. As funding sources dry up, nonprofits must forge new partnerships to stay afloat.

Build Relationships

Reach out to local government officials, business owners, and civic organizations. Explain your organization’s important mission and current challenges. Ask to meet with them personally to discuss ways they can offer support. These face-to-face meetings are vital for establishing lasting relationships. Be open to creative solutions and compromises.

Local companies may donate office supplies, provide pro bono services, or allow employees to volunteer their time. Community groups can organize fundraisers, food/supply drives, and awareness campaigns on your behalf. Government leaders have connections and influence to rally additional support. Make it easy for them by preparing specific requests and ways people can contribute based on their abilities.

Collaborate on New Programs

Work together with new partners to develop innovative programs, events, and initiatives. Collaborating on fresh ideas generates excitement and gives people a concrete way to help. Reach out to businesses, schools, and places of worship to co-sponsor a program. Let the community take ownership of the solution by giving them a voice in the planning process. Such collaborative efforts lead to the most impactful and sustainable results.

Spread Awareness

Promote these new partnerships and initiatives to garner further support. Issue a press release, start a social media campaign, and get the word out through all communication channels. Share stories of successful collaborations and the real people who benefited. Publicizing the good work being done despite challenges inspires continued generosity. With the community behind you, nonprofits can withstand even the darkest of days. Staying visible and vocal is what keeps organizations afloat when funding falters.

When government funding is cut off, nonprofits can feel like they’re in survival mode. But there are other sources of support to help bridge the gap. Foundations and major donors can provide a lifeline during difficult times.

Exploring Furloughs, Pay Cuts, or Staff Reductions

JPSS and GOES-R Exhibit Ribbon Cutting
JPSS and GOES-R Exhibit Ribbon Cutting by NASA Goddard Photo and Video is licensed under CC-BY 2.0

When funding stops suddenly, nonprofits need to act quickly to avoid shutting down completely. Some options to consider include:

Furloughs and Pay Cuts

Asking staff to take unpaid time off (“furloughs”) or reducing salaries (“pay cuts”) can help make up budget shortfalls, at least temporarily. Be open and honest in communicating with employees about the organization’s financial situation. Let them know these measures are a last resort to avoid layoffs. Consider across-the-board cuts at higher levels first before impacting lower-level staff. Make furloughs equitable, such as one day off per week for all employees. Ensure any pay cuts are also shared proportionally at each level.

Reducing Hours

As an alternative to furloughs or pay cuts, you may reduce employee hours and benefits. For example, employees may go from 40 to 35 hours a week. Be consistent in how hours and benefits are reduced for all staff. Explain how reducing hours now may allow employees to return to normal full-time schedules once additional funding is secured. Offer resources for applying for unemployment benefits to supplement lost wages.

Freezing New Hires

Put a freeze on hiring any new staff, interns, or contractors. Reassess any positions that were recently vacated to determine if they must be filled immediately. Existing employees may need to take on more responsibility temporarily. Be extremely judicious about adding new costs in the form of new hires during this time.

Making difficult but temporary sacrifices, reducing costs thoughtfully, and avoiding layoffs altogether can help organizations survive until normal operations resume.

Government Shutdown FAQs: Answering Key Questions for Nonprofits

During a government shutdown, nonprofits that rely on federal funding may face some uncertainties. Here are some of the most common questions and concerns nonprofits have during these periods, along with guidance to help alleviate worries.

Will we still receive federal grant payments?

Federal agencies are typically unable to disburse grant payments during a shutdown. Grant payments are considered non-essential government functions. Nonprofits should prepare for delays in receiving grant funds until government operations resume.

Can we still access government resources?

Most government resources, like grants.gov and SAM.gov registrations, are unavailable during a shutdown. Nonprofits will not be able to apply for or manage federal grants. Nonprofits should ensure registrations and applications are submitted before a potential shutdown.

Should we furlough or lay off staff?

This depends on the nonprofit's financial situation and how long the shutdown lasts. Nonprofits should evaluate cash reserves and operating budgets to determine if temporary furloughs or layoffs are necessary. If possible, nonprofits should avoid staff reductions and continue operations as usual.

How will this impact our programs and services?

Again, this depends on the nonprofit's funding and how long the shutdown lasts. Nonprofits should review program budgets and evaluate if any programs rely heavily on federal funds. Some nonprofits may need to scale back or suspend programs and services temporarily. Nonprofits should have contingency plans in place for different shutdown scenarios.

How can we prepare for and weather a shutdown?

The key for nonprofits is planning ahead. Build cash reserves, diversify funding, and create contingency plans for different situations. During a shutdown, cut any unnecessary expenses, look for alternative funding sources, and keep lines of communication open with funders, partners, and program recipients. By preparing in advance and taking proactive steps, nonprofits can withstand the uncertainties of a government shutdown.


So there you have it, some key ways to prepare your nonprofit to weather the storm of a government shutdown. It may not be easy, but with some advance planning and perseverance, you have the power to outlast any shutdown. Stay focused on your mission, get scrappy and creative, and come out the other side stronger than ever. Don't lose hope. With the right mindset and strategies in place, no government can shut you down.

About ForGranted: ForGranted Media specializes in all facets of emerging technological advancements, finance, fundraising and marketing for your nonprofit. Our sole mission is to provide with resources to become a stronger organization!

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