Jana Jane Hexter
Writing Sustainability Plans that Sing!
Some lucky proposal writers have the good fortune to be able to write “Organization XYZ has sufficient resources to sustain this program, once developed, as part of its core programming. Our board passed a resolution on April 1st to commit itself to sustaining this project in full once grant funding expires, see Appendix.” If this applies to you, please stop reading now and use your time more profitably.
The rest of us need to be a little more creative.
Most public RFP’s and many foundations ask respondents to ‘demonstrate how you plan to sustain the proposed activities after the grant period.’ Typically, proposal writers address this question with cursory comments such as ‘we intend to investigate alternative funding from public agency y, corporation x and foundation z.’ However, by taking a little time to brainstorm with your grant proposal team you can devise a sustainability strategy that will stand above the rest.
A good sustainability strategy will show the reviewer that your organization is so well managed that not only have you conceived this imaginative, responsive and visionary project plan but you also have the ability to conceive its long-term future.
During the program planning phase it is helpful to decide how you will create a long term sustainability plan once funding begins. Several organizations such as the National Center for Community Educators, the AfterSchool Alliance, the Finance Project, and the Center for Civic Partnerships have created tools and recommendations for sustainability planning. The following is a brief synopsis of their recommendations to give you a flavor of the information that is available.
When to Start Planning for Sustainability
Sustainability planning should start as soon as the project begins. Your first board meeting should include sustainability on the agenda. That 3-year, $5 million grant is going to expire sooner than you know. Get the sustainability team in place and start on contact building and creating a thorough sustainability plan.
Who Should be Involved in Creating a Sustainability Plan
Consider who will conduct your sustainability activities. Do not assign the project director the sole responsibility of sustaining the project. Since the community benefits by continuance of successful projects, then the community should be involved in addressing long-term sustainability from the beginning. Ask whether your entire governing board should be involved in sustainability planning or just a subcommittee. If you choose a subcommittee, make sure that it includes all the key stakeholders and reports directly back to your full board. Don’t forget to put sustainability planning into your project timeline. Strong management is essential to create and sustain outstanding programs. Make sure that you have high calibre internal administrative and management systems in place to provide program efficiency and stability - without them no sustainability plan will succeed.
Create a Positive Climate in Which to Advocate for Program Sustainability
Most programs can only be sustained with a broad base of community support. You can build on the trusting relationships built during the program planning stage and nurture them during program implementation. Consider the following.
Leaders and Champions: Your program will need a committed leadership and several champions. Ask your champions to keep key stakeholders, elected officials and policymakers informed. For example, if your project prevents youth violence there should be a measurable drop in pressure on the police and court systems. If representatives from the juvenile justice system are not involved in project implementation, let them know how the project is going and what results you have achieved to date.
The Media: If it is not already in place, develop a plan for creating a strong relationship with the local media. This will enable you to keep the general public and your communities of interest informed about the program’s impact.
Community of Interest: Successful programs often result in cost-savings for some group in your community and benefit several constituencies. Create a strategy for identifying organizations and people who appreciate, need, or want your program. Keep these groups informed and ask them to advocate for your program in appropriate ways.
SWOT Analysis. Identify internal and external threats and opportunities to give the program the ability to adapt to changing conditions.
Determine What to Sustain
Before creating a sustainability plan first define a clear programmatic vision and decide how to set sustainability goals. Jenette Nagy recommends this simple rule of thumb, “If it helps keep your organization or its work going, and if it's something you would have had to pay for if it hadn't been a donation, then developing it fully will be part of your financial sustainability plan.”
The sustainability team should determine how to set sustainability goals based on the evaluation data. They might choose to sustain all components at 100%, all components at a lower rate, only some successful components, or expand on some or all components. They will need to decide what the evaluation parameters will be and decide when you will have enough sound evaluation data to make decisions.
Creating Your Plan
Identify Resource Gaps. Once the team has determined what it wants to sustain it can then determine what resources are available and where gaps exist. Use this information as the basis for funding research to identify untapped funding sources.
Funding Research: Plan to conduct research on grant funding options. Your sustainability team will need to look at existing community funding, such as formula grants, as well as discretionary grant funding sources. This funding research should result in a list of funding sources to sustain your project.
Sustainability Plan. Create a plan that identifies who will seek what from whom, when and how. This plan will help to clarify thinking and provide common goals and objectives and clearly show how much effort will need to be expended to sustain the program. Get feedback on the sustainability plan from key stakeholders and partners. Implement the plan and celebrate successes.
Once your program planning team has thought through how your organization/collaboration will approach sustainability planning you will be able to lay out a clear, focused strategy in your proposal that will stand out in the crowd.
A presenter recently said at a bidders’ conference “We know you’re making it up. Just make up something good.” By investing a little proposal planning time into thinking about your long-term sustainability strategy you can create something that is realistic and will benefit your team during program implementation. It will also give you the opportunity to put the icing on the cake and flourish on the proposal script.
For More Information
There are some excellent sources of information on sustainability planning. Here are a few web-based resources that I find particularly useful:
- The AfterSchool Alliance and the National Center for Community Educationhas an excellent, free toolkit that is a great place to start on your path towards sustainability (http://www.afterschoolalliance.org/sustain.pdf).
- The Coalition for Community Schools, Sustainability Planning Checklist, June 2000. http://www.communityschools.org/fundingchecklist.html.
- Computers in Our Future Sustainability Checklist for Community Technology Centers http://www.cctpg.org/ciof/toolkits/sustain-checklist.htm
- The Finance Project. Sustaining Comprehensive Community Initiatives: Key Elements for Success. April 2002. http://www.financeproject.org/ostplanning.htm.
- Gerkens Sanborn, Victoire, “Finding Sustainable Funding for Nonprofit Organizations: Strategic Planning and Program Evaluation,” http://www-tcall.tamu.edu/newsletr/dec03/dec03n.htm
- Gundry, George. “Keys to Sustaining Your Community Technology Center
Sustaining a program during tough economic times” http://www.techsoup.org/howto/articlepage.cfm?articleid=437&topicid=12&btcfile=articlepage437
- Nagy, Jenette & Edited by Wolff, Tom, Rabinowitz, Phil. “Developing a Plan for Financial Sustainability.” http://ctb.ku.edu/tools/en/sub_section_main_1297.htm
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