As noted in the New York Times today, the Big Apple Circus, after more than 35 years, is folding up its tents and sending its clowns and other performers elsewhere.
The Times has followed the story of the Circus' valiant efforts to save itself. Many factors contributed to its going out of business. Based on the article, most of these factors were environmental: recession, big bad events (e.g. Boston bombing), and competing demands for money. The board has basically called it a day saying there's just no more support.
I do wonder aloud about why, even 15 years ago, the Circus' nonprofit board didn't start thinking about starting an endowment and tapping into the support it had looking much farther into the future than the usual strategic plans dictate. I pose that today, nonprofit boards can't, from a sustainability perspective, just be looking three or five years ahead. They must look 15 or 20 years ahead thinking about how to convert major gift donors into planned gift donors. Building reserves and even and endowment must be on the radar of every board if they plan to ensure their services last beyond them.
For the Circus clowns, it's too late. But for many, there is still time.