Sunsets, Shifts & Spinoffs: Making Difficult Program Decisions

A Decade in the Making Series Part Seven

In honor of our 11th anniversary, we are publishing sections from A Decade in the Making: ProInspire’s Lessons on Leadership and Equity to share our journey on this blog. Below you will find our seventh blog in the series and our fifth and final lesson: Sunsets, Shifts & Spinoffs: Making Difficult Program Decisions. To learn more about our learnings from 2019 and areas of work for 2020, register for ProInspire’s 2020 Impact Call on March 11th from 12:00- 1:00pm EST. This call will give the ProInspire community the chance to engage directly with our team and hear more about our exciting future.

Lesson Five: Sunsets, Shifts & Spinoffs: Making Difficult Program Decisions

We have faced some difficult decisions about our programs over the past decade, including elimination of beloved programs. Deep affinity for a program like the ProInspire Fellowship is understandable, since it was the program that launched our organization and was our primary focus for the first five years. Emotional attachment, however, cannot sustain a program if it no longer serves the needs of participants or the sector. About every two years, we ask a few critical questions as we conduct strategic planning and evaluate our activities and programs:

  • What is the program’s impact?
  • Does it still meet the needs of participants and the sector?
  • Does it align with our strategic focus and move us towards our vision?
  • Are we able to generate enough revenue to support it through grants and fees?

At a high-level, some of the more difficult program decisions we have made over the past ten years include:


After placing over 150 Fellows with 65 nonprofit organizations in the nine-year program duration, we made the difficult decision to sunset the program in 2017 because it was no longer able to meet impact and sustainability goals. From an impact perspective, the fellowship was not addressing the core challenges to developing leaders in the sector. 70% of alumni who were five years post-Fellowship had returned to the private sector due to lack of leadership development, clear career pathways, and compensation in the social sector. From a sustainability perspective, we recognized that the fellowship model was no longer as relevant, and we faced an enduring gap between program revenue and cost to place a fellow. While we stopped recruiting and placing Fellows, we retained core elements of the program through other activities including alumni engagement and leadership development opportunities.


Launched in 2013 with support from American Express, this program to support new managers was based on our learnings from the Fellowship and expanded quickly to three cohorts per year. Five years in, challenges such as high program costs and requests for a condensed program led us to revisit the program design. During that time period, we had created the ProInspire Leadership Institute (PLI), a modified version of Managing for Success, for Kresge Foundation grantees. The streamlined program, with similar content delivered in a two-day workshop, proved effective in meeting program and participant goals. With continued support from American Express, we shifted Managing for Success to the PLI model and plan to expand the offering as an open enrollment program in 2020.


After hosting the Impact Fellowships Summit for two years, we realized we lacked the capacity to continue as the project home and organizer. We also felt that a field-wide initiative should live with the field and that other interested organizations should take a leadership role in facilitating this gathering. We engaged a consultant after the 2017 Summit to lead the effort to find a new home for the project. Based on input from key stakeholders and defined criteria for the project’s future home, IREX surfaced as the best successor to take over the project as it had strong capacity and interest to serve as Summit host. IREX has done an impressive job of hosting and expanding the Summit, and we are pleased to participate in this ongoing field-wide initiative. This experience highlighted the importance of field building and knowing when it is time to pass the torch — a lesson we are currently applying as we consider next steps for Equity in the Center.

Based on these experiences, we have a few suggestions for how to manage program changes:


Sentimental attachment to a program is understandable, but it can cloud judgment as you consider options. Be flexible in your thinking, open to possibilities you haven’t considered, and objective about the path forward that is best for participants, partners, and the organization.


Chances are, you aren’t the only one with mixed emotions about a program change. Take time to mark the change and celebrate program and participant achievements. Such rituals can ease the transition process for those invested in and impacted by the change.


At different points, our strategic planning processes have involved alumni, advisors, partners, staff, and Board members. The process that led to the sunset of the ProInspire Fellowship involved staff and Board members, but it would have been better to involve alumni and partners throughout the process. We are using a participator decision-making process as we determine the future of Equity in the Center, and the advisors who have been most engaged in that project will approve next steps for the project.


We tried several programs and initiatives along our journey that didn’t work out: licensing our curriculum, trying to acquire another fellowship program, and piloting a two-day program to support career transitions are a few examples. We focused on capturing the learnings from each experience to inform future endeavors.

This is the seventh of a series of blogs from A Decade in the Making: ProInspire’s Lessons on Leadership and EquityCheck out the other blogs in the series:

Sign up for Our Newsletter

Receive occasional updates on program opportunities, convenings, resources, and other news on leadership and equity.

Please leave blank if you are not affiliated with an organization.