To the employees and trustees of most institutions and organizations, whether for-profit or nonprofit, the phrase “going out of business” has an ominous, moribund tone to it, kind of like hearing that a friend is terminally ill. But sometimes going out of business is a good idea and the right thing to do—and not always because the organization closing up shop has been doing something bad or useless, but because, to the contrary, it has completely succeeded in fulfilling its mission and has met its every goal.
Take for example Marin Organic, a nonprofit that thrived in this county for more than a decade. Although it often denied being a “trade association,” it was in fact just that, but not only that. It was an association formed in 2001 by and for farmers and ranchers to foster the growth and success of organic agriculture in Marin. When it started, there were half a dozen serious organic producers in the county. When it deliberately and resolutely went out of business, there were 55 organic farms and ranches, producing and successfully marketing every crop from every branch of agriculture in the country. And its members were providing about half the total harvest in Marin.
As it grew to become a national epicenter of organic farming Marin Organic’s products found their way across the country. I still remember, with pride, seeing a six pack of Straus milk bottles outside a small grocery in Manhattan, and wondering how much longer Marin’s successful organic dairy industry would need a trade association. Two years later, the nonprofit announced that it no longer felt needed, spun off a couple of worthy projects, and went out of business. The announcement read:
“Marin Organic has been a great success and it’s time for us to declare victory and open the space for other nonprofit efforts to thrive and make a difference. Thank you all for your years of support and dedication, it’s a bittersweet time for us at Marin Organic, but it feels good to say: WE WON!”
It was the right move, and one that should be periodically considered by every organization and business in the world. Most of the time, closing up shop will seem like a bad idea, and staying on course the right thing to do for a while. But sometimes retiring and releasing the talent and treasure needed to simply keep a successful but unneeded project alive is gift to the world.
With that sentiment in mind, The Marin Media Institute, once the owner of the Point Reyes Light, supporter of journalism fellowships in West Marin media and producer of Story Shed on KWMR, has gone out of business.
Mark Dowie was a director of Marin Organic for nine years and the chair of Marin Media Institute for five years.