How many of us have found ourselves in this position:
Your organization received a demonstration grant for an innovative approach to address a community need. The evaluation results are promising. But the funds are time-limited. Now your organization is in the position of having to find resources to continue the initiative in a short period of time. So you begin looking for funding and because you don’t want a gap in services, you feel unable to limit yourselves only to funding that is directly applicable to your approach to meeting the community need.
Sustainability planning is about more than finding the money. Certainly finding the money is important, but financing is just a tool to getting your community need addressed.
What is Sustainability Planning? What is it not?
Sustainability planning is not a one-time process that happens when a grant is running out or there is a financial crisis. A sustainability plan is in essence a business plan that provides strategic direction, is continually updated as things change, and serves as a strong marketing tool so you never get into the position outlined above. In order for this to happen, you need to articulate the vision – paint a clear picture of what you want to sustain and why you want to sustain it. Start by answering these questions:
1. What outcome are you trying to achieve?
2. How will you know if you have achieved those outcomes?
Next you need to define your program. We know that you understand your program, but in order for potential funders to see the value, it helps to spend the time to articulate the key elements of your program or initiative that you want to sustain. Start by answering these questions:
1. What are the crucial elements of your initiative that need to be sustained for the outcome to remain achievable?
2. Why are these elements crucial to the outcome?
Is the Program a Shared Community Priority?
An important part of sustainability planning is engaging a range of stakeholders that can help you build the will to sustain the program or initiative. So once you have a clear idea of what you want to sustain, the next step is to articulate the community benefit. Start by answering these questions:
1. What need does your program address?
2. What’s the benefit to the community to addressing that need?
3. Can you show how you are effectively addressing that need?
Once you’ve articulated the community benefit, you can determine whose support you need, and how to garner broad community support so that your program becomes a shared community priority. Start by answering these questions:
1. Who are the key stakeholders in this particular community need?
2. Who are the key stakeholders in the community who can make your vision and program a reality?
It is only once you’ve thought through the four steps above that you can do a good job of articulating the ask so that funders can immediately see themselves backing. Start by answering these questions:
1. What is it that you want funders to do?
2. How does your program benefit the funder? Does it help them meet their legal or established mandates?
Recap: Steps to Setting the Strategic Direction
As we discussed in the previous sections, the five major steps to setting a strategic direction are:
1. Articulating The Vision: What are you trying to achieve? How will you know when you get there?
2. Defining Your Program: What the key elements of your program/initiative that you want to sustain?
3. Community Benefit: What is the benefit to the community? What need does your program address? Can you show how you are effectively addressing that need?
4. Garnering Broad Community Support: Who are the key stakeholders who can make your vision and program a reality?
5. The Ask: What do you want funders to do? How does your program benefit the funder? (e.g., Does it help them meet their legal mandate?)
Once all five of these elements are in place you are now ready to move on to the kind of strategic financing that will allow you to fund exactly the activities that can achieve your desired outcome. These steps can help you to avoid the common mistake of focusing on the money first and then designing the program or initiative to fit the funders’ requirements.
This free guide was prepared by the Hamilton Fish Institute on School and Community Violence & the National Mentoring Center at Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, with support from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Justice. It explores key planning and fundraising strategies for youth mentoring programs, but is also applicable to other sustainability planning efforts.