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Don't Fear the Giant Elephant: Sustainability

Grantors take our abilities to master sustainability seriously. In most instances, many funders will not issue funds beyond one grant cycle. They, in turn, place a sustainability section in their guidelines with the anticipation that your organization does not plan to depend on them perpetually. For some donors, their investment into your program and agency is a “sunflower seed” and through additional support, they anticipate that your efforts will grow and live on for years to come.

In anticipation of this question, here are a few strategies that you can consider:

  1. Diversify your funding. Try garnering support from a number of sources (foundations, government, individuals, and corporations). Ensure donors that sustainability is an ongoing strategy,  with discussions happening  continually with these different donors.
  2. Create a logic model that fully articulates your sustainability goals. Share it with donors and inform them of the key target dates and activities that have been achieved.
  3. Create an action plan that lists specific donors whose mission and vision align firmly with your agency. Contact those donors and maintain accurate notes of the discussion. Share this vital information with new potential funders. Be sure to include funding gaps and how new donors can support those efforts.

The advantages of developing a targeted sustainability plan is undeniable. It is necessary to face sustainability early on. It should be a critical part of discussions between staff and board members, grant writers and funders. Don't be afraid of the giant elephant. Approach it firmly and develop a targeted approach to master it.

Here are links to additional strategies that you can use as you develop compelling sustainability plans:

A Step-by-Step Sustainability Planning Workbook from Community Health Systems Development

Strategies for Sustainability of Grant Funded Programs

Kellogg Foundation Logic Model Development Guide

Do you approach sustainability differently; if so, what additional strategies do you recommend?

Dr Janell Harvey is a Professor of Marketing, author, proposal developer and has been a member of GPA since 2002.

GPC Competency: 01. Knowledge of how to research, identify, and match funding resources to meet specific needs


By: Margit Brazda Poirier
On: 01/29/2019 15:18:04
This is a fantastic topic! I encourage my clients to focus on sustaining their project outcomes, not necessarily their activities (as it relates to their logic model).
By: Matt Jones
On: 01/29/2019 16:08:19
I have been complimented on the sustainability section of our 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21CCLC) grant. To be brief, I asked the project staff to give me honest options should some or all of the funding be eliminated. The result was a multiple-option scenario that forced staff to consider what was most valuable in the program. Another benefit was the exercise of considering what resources our school district had in place to cover grant-funded resources. I definitely recommend avoiding the pat "we will look for other funding" response in any sustainability section. An informed response that demonstrates planning can be the extra few points that puts your application ahead of your competition.
By: Edward Hanson
On: 01/29/2019 16:58:44
Thank you for all this great, timely material.
By: Margit Brazda Poirier
On: 01/30/2019 13:19:21
Great article! I always help my customers focus on sustainable outcomes, since that is of great interest to the funder.
By: Janell Harvey
On: 01/31/2019 11:43:47
GPA Family. Thanks for the feedback. Let’s keep the conversation going.
By: Ellen Gugel
On: 01/31/2019 22:30:35
You can look at sustainability from multiple angles. Margit nails one of them - that surprisingly doesn’t talk about funding directly. The blog I wrote for GPA suggests other ways to think about the question.

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