Achieving Sustainability: Eight Critical Elements
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.
Non-Profit Development Specialist
PO Box 56
Marshfield, Wisconsin 54449
Create a sustainability plan
for your program in its initial stages
As 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
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
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.
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
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.
Need help developing a sustainability
plan? Advantage Consulting Services provides trainings and workshops, as well as facilitation for resource development
and sustainability planning retreats.