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The Answer is All in How You Look at the Question

The answer to the sustainability question is, in fact, all in how you look at it, but first, you actually have to look at it! I spent many years trusting my supervisor or other staff members who willingly edited my grant applications, to pick up on any sub-par responses I tried to submit. Inexperienced in grant writing, I believed the answer to the sustainability question involved naming all funding sources from which we would request grants over the next year.

Inexperienced in grant writing themselves, my supervisors believed my extensive lists had fully answered these questions. Together, we committed sad, unfortunate grant-writing crimes, potentially leading us to miss out on untold amounts of money to support our agency's programs.
Today, I am here to tell you that your response to the sustainability question is your opportunity to shine! It is your place to “wow” your supervisors, your program staff, and with any luck, your potential funders. Your to-do list of grant applications does not prove much, except for how busy your schedule will be in the upcoming months. Instead, use the question to think outside the box, to figure out different ways to achieve sustainability in all its facets. Could it be through modifications in leadership, or relying upon your agency's agility and flexibility to change? Think about the various capacities in which your programs could operate, and see what solutions you can find!
For example, my organization has a program that helps students to earn high school equivalency certificates. The end goal is to earn a certificate. Just because the students currently achieve this goal by receiving one-on-one mentoring from a paid staff person, does not mean they cannot reach the same goal by working in small groups with a more-experienced classmate as a mentor, right? That said, the funding application will include programmatic design to foster leadership development in a handful of the more motivated, higher-achieving students. Through some creative program design, internal leaders will be groomed for sustainability purposes, to ensure the program continues to function in the future, whether or not additional funding is received.
This does not mean the program will always look exactly the way it does today or that it will always function in the same way as it does right now, but those are not the most important issues to address in terms of sustainability. The primary concern for sustainability is that students in need continue to receive the assistance necessary to help them to earn high school equivalency certificates.
Creatively and effectively responding to the sustainability question should be an essential piece to your own personal sustainability plan. After all, everyone loves a grant writer who is creative, effective, and keeps the measurable outcomes coming!
There are plenty of ways to look at program sustainability, to guide you toward a strong response.

What is your favorite way to tackle this question?

Kristi Miller has been writing grants for several years, and loves to see the fruits of her labor played out in funded projects and programs that help those in need.