Citizens’ initiatives are believed to be a suitable alternative approach to service provision, especially in rural areas where services are under pressure because of depopulation and decentralisation measures of the state. To date, research has mainly focused on best practices and successful examples of these initiatives. However, understanding failure is equally important in order to learn more about the processes citizens’ initiatives go through, the chances of success and to develop tools for the support needed. This article focuses on the perception of initiators of citizens’ initiatives on failure. Within the relevant body of literature, six obstacles to the success of citizens’ initiatives stand out. In order to understand the processes of failure in more detail, we investigated three case studies on failed citizens’ initiatives in the Northern Netherlands. The following aspects seem to be of vital importance to whether or not a citizens’ initiative fails: 1) how governments and (semi-) governmental organisations interact with the citizens’ initiative; 2) how people are able to balance the different needs for senses of ownership and responsibility; and 3) how participants are able to balance personal investments. Finally, the interviewed initiators justify failure as a discrepancy of scale caused by different scopes of actions of local and regional governments and housing corporations at the regional level, and citizens’ initiatives, at the local level. To overcome this discrepancy, citizens’ initiatives require tailor-made and context-specific support.