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Sustainability Planning

One of the biggest factors in making your organization or programs sustainable is the creation and implementation of a resource development (or sustainability) plan. Too often non-profits fail to plan properly for long-term financial stability or do not take advantage of all the resources at their disposal. While dealing with their day-to-day operations, staff frequently find it difficult to plan for the future. No matter what your program’s current funding situation is, it is important to have an ongoing plan for resource development as part of your overall strategic and operational plans.

When developing a sustainability or resource development plan, it is important to keep in mind that sustainability planning involves more than just finding the funding to keep your programs and organization alive. Besides funding, the sustainability plan should address developing other resources including volunteers, program partners and collaborators in the initiative, as well as identifying and cultivating effective leaders and key champions.

Advantage Consulting Services offers a number of resources to help your organization develop a comprehensive sustainability plan. We also provide facilitation of sustainability planning retreats for board members and staff.

If you have any questions about sustainability planning, or if you would like more information about additional resources or the services we provide, please contact us by sending an email stating your questions or your specific request for information.  

Create a sustainability plan for your program in its initial stagesAs you are establishing or expanding your program, addressing how it will be sustained in the long-term needs to be a part of your planning from the very beginning. Planning for sustainability should not be an after-thought or an add-on to your program planning. 

Create a working group to address sustainability in a consistent and ongoing manner

Sustaining a program should not fall on any one person or any one organization's shoulders, and is not a one-time effort. Ask program partners to share responsibility for sustaining the program.

Pursue other funding sources before your initial grant expires

Given the time required to identify, write, submit and be notified of grants, as well as unforeseen shifts in public budgets and other such changes, you should pursue additional sources of funding in the early stages of your initial grant cycle. Additionally, to ensure the continuance of your program beyond your initial grant, you should aim to have been awarded at least one additional source of funding half way through your initial grant cycle.

Capitalize on your program’s history and achievements when pursuing funding

Be sure to emphasize your program’s or your community partners’ history in providing high-quality programs and services, even if your current programs are different than they were in the past. Even for a new program, demonstrating your community partners’ long-term commitment to serving the needs of the community can bring credentials to your program’s request for support.

Engage your program’s community partners in actively pursuing other funding for the program

A wide variety of community partners may increase your program’s access to various funding sources. For example, if your program’s fiscal agent is a school, a nonprofit community partner may be eligible for funding not available to schools or other public entities.

Sustainability: Getting Started 

One quick way of getting the process started is to hold a brainstorming session. This can be just one individual (executive director, board chair, etc.) working out the bare bones of a sustainability planning process, or it can be a group or staff or the entire board of directors working collectively. Take sheets of paper and write each of the following headings at the top of a page:

  • Our program’s vision

  • Our program has already taken these steps toward sustainability

  • Our program needs to take these steps toward sustainability

  • Our program’s key partners

  • Resources our partners bring

  • Advocates for our program are (parents, staff, community partners, youth, decision makers, etc.)

  • Our program’s existing resources and any relevant time limits

  • Potential new funding sources to find out more about and who is responsible for gathering such information

Take time to think about each of these key areas and begin listing the required information on each page. Use large poster paper if you are doing this as a group, or make individual sheets for each person and after the brainstorm session, collect the sheets and combine the results on a master list. It might be a good idea to tackle one sheet at a time over a period of several months or even weeks (to avoid burnout and also to allow adequate time to think and do research).

When you feel that enough information has been gathered, use the sheets to form and outline for sustainability plan. Identify areas that require further research and gather the information.

Achieving Sustainability: Eight Critical Elements for Success

The Finance Project describes the eight elements that constitute the sustainability framework. These elements are critical for achieving a stable base of fiscal and nonfiscal resources that, in turn, can help lead to long-term sustainability of community initiatives. Although each element is important, initiative leaders and stakeholders will need to determine the “critical mass” of elements that must be in place for their particular program to continue and thrive.
While initiatives will have unique goals and strategies for developing the needed resources that will help achieve sustainability, the following components are key to most successful initiatives and can help guide efforts to develop both short- and long-term sustainability strategies.
In brief, the eight elements are:
1. Vision: Having a clear-cut objective that articulates how an initiative’s programs or activities will improve the lives of children, families and communities is one of the most important and basic steps involved in achieving sustainability. Without articulating these objectives and developing a plan for achieving them, no initiative can be truly viable.
2. Results Orientation: Demonstrating program success through measurable results (e.g., established indicators and performance measures) is crucial for building support from key stakeholders in the community. Stakeholder support, in turn, increases the likelihood of program continuance.
3. Strategic Financing Orientation: Developing a strategic financing orientation is critical for program leaders. It enables them to identify the resources they need to sustain their activities and then develop strategies to bring these resources together to achieve their goals.
4. Adaptability to Changing Conditions: Adjusting to changing social, economic, and political trends in the community enables initiatives to take advantage of various opportunities that can help to achieve sustainability. Making these adjustments also allows initiatives to identify and overcome any external threats that could obstruct program continuance.
5. Broad Base of Community Support: Achieving a broad base of community support means determining who within the community loves an initiative, who needs it and who would care if it were gone. Often, when an initiative is able to build a broad base of supporters who care about it and believe it is vital, fiscal and non-fiscal support will follow.
6. Key Champions: Rallying leaders from businesses, faith-based institutions, government and other parts of the community who are committed to an initiative’s vision and are willing to use their power and prestige to generate support for that program will help to ensure long-term stability.
7. Strong Internal Systems: Building strong internal systems, such as fiscal management, accounting, information, personnel systems and governance structures, enables an initiative to work effectively and efficiently. Establishing these systems also allows initiatives to document their results and demonstrate their soundness to potential funders.
8. Sustainability Plan: Creating sustainability plans helps initiative developers and managers clarify where they want their initiatives to go in the future. They provide benchmarks for determining whether initiatives are successfully reaching their goals. They also help policymakers, opinion leaders and investors decide whether and how to support certain initiatives.
Collectively, these elements are key to achieving a stable base of resources for community-based initiatives. Although all of the elements are important, it is not imperative to have all eight fully in place to achieve sustainability. The emphasis placed on each element and/or amount of time dedicated to a particular element will vary according to the needs and resources of the individual initiative or community. For example, initiative leaders may not need to dedicate much time to establishing an identity within the community because they have already cultivated a very broad base of community support. However, they may need to focus a considerable amount of time on shoring up their internal systems.
In addition, there is no predetermined order in which these elements should be pursued, although some do naturally occur before others. For instance, it is important to have a clear vision before deciding what financing strategies are most appropriate. But, other elements are not sequential and will need to be pursued simultaneously. For example, initiative leaders will need to cultivate relationships with key community leaders not as a last step, but rather in conjunction with efforts to develop financing strategies and build a broad base of community support. 



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