Sustainability refers to organisations being able to maintain themselves, projects, operations, services and benefits over a projected life time. It is an organisation’s ability to weather the changing social, economic and political contexts to continuously benefit its users or clients.
Anytime we talk of sustainability, our minds drift to how projects we initiate with grant support will continue when the funding is ended. Sustainability is more than projects just going beyond their grant funding period. Sustainability for an organisation could mean three things:
Financial sustainability: How the organisation is able to ensure steady flow of funds by generating revenue to maintain and continue its work
Institutional or Organisational Sustainability: This refers to ensuring proper working systems in your organisation that were developed as part of the project.
Programme Sustainability: Means the organisation continuing its projects and programmes in the absence of donor support.
An organisation is able to sustain its projects or programmes if it’s financially stable and not being threatened with closure. This can happen if the organisation has proper planning strategies in place, good governance and effective leadership. It is only then can that organisation develop and sustain programmes to benefit the community for long periods of time.
One source of funding to sustain projects is grants. [There are other funding sources for projects]. Funders award grants to support projects only for a fixed period of time. They are therefore concerned about how projects they fund can go beyond the funding period. For this reason, funders will carefully look at an organisation’s sustainability plan before awarding grants to them.
Funders want assurances that their funds will be put to good use. That the funds have long term impact, and projects continue to provide benefits to the target community even after the grant is finished.
During the recent financial crisis, many non-profit organisations around the world closed down. The sole reason was the inability of leaders of these organisations to raise enough money to support the work they do. Service users can no longer depend on those organisations to benefit from projects they provide. The promises to make life better for service users are lost. And the community is the loser.
Does it mean that the founders, trustees or directors of the organisations concerned did not do their homework? Did they not set plans in motion to sustain programmes? It’s always advisable to integrate sustainability aspects in projects right from the beginning. This would ensure that once the primary funding ends, organisations have credible plans of support, to continue their projects.
As I said earlier on, sustainability is more than finding funding to continue with services developed through grants. It’s a combination of various strategies to maintain the elements of your programmes that are responsible for positive outcomes. It’s an organisation’s ability to continue providing benefits to its community of users over long periods of time.
It’s a recommend practice that organisations have sustainability teams with designated leaders. This team should be vexed in marketing, social media, and communication and should be responsible for thinking sustainability for their charities and projects.
Below are 7 key steps organisations can take to sustain their projects
1. Create and develop partnership work
One way organisations can sustain their projects is to work in partnership with other groups. This could be in the area of cross referrals, project development and/or sharing of resources. Strong partnerships can bring on board diverse strengths, skills and experience to better serve communities and sustain projects.
Experienced trustees will add their skills to running projects effectively and efficiently. Skilled personnel with good grant writing or fundraising skills can be shared to generate much income to continue with projects. Limited resources like space, staff, volunteers, equipment can be utilised at little or no cost to benefit the community.
Together, partners can establish actions to keep projects benefiting communities for longer periods of time. Having groups in an area coming together to provide services will generate benefits of division of labour. There will be no duplication of services but variety of available and accessible activities which can benefit many.
Involving others who have the same goals and affected by similar problems can lead essentially to developing supportive services with minimal resources. It’s important to identify the strengths of partners and build on them for maximum benefit to service users.
An example of partnership working could be a charity collaborating with a community centre to run computer literacy lessons for adults and/or young people. One will donate space and the other, teachers and resources for the project. In this way more people are engaged, organisations learn from each other and the community becomes the winner. Or a homeless support project can work with an interfaith group to support homeless people.
Funders recognise synergy of groups working together and are more prone to supporting such initiatives.
2. Involve key stakeholders:
Another major step in ensuring sustainability of projects is to involve key project users, stakeholders and the community you serve in project development, delivery and evaluation. Building projects together in this way can win the hearts and minds of users and build community support. People in the community will embrace activities because they are part of the development and implementation. Communities will take ownership, feel valued and endeavor to do things that can help the project to continue into the future.
It’s a challenge for non-profit organisations to ensure a steady flow of funds to execute projects and programmes. The community, valuing the project will be concerned when monies are running out. Those with community skills can arrange fundraisers to supplement dwindling income. Stakeholders with skills can step in to volunteer in case a staff is not around. In this way projects will continue to thrive for longer periods in the community.
3. Regularly evaluate projects
When an organisation undertakes constant and consistent evaluation of its projects, it’s able to identify projects that the community needs. Evaluation results show which activities are achieving results and those that need to be dropped. This means only valued projects will be carried forward.
It’s advisable to present positive evaluation data on how you continually measure success, make ongoing adjustments to projects and produce benefits to more people. This can help you to generate more support and income for your projects to enhance sustainability.
4. Build capacity of trustees, staff and volunteers
Capacity building in an organisation can lead to project sustainability. A well-trained and highly skilled staff as well as an effective leadership is valuable asset in developing and preserving projects that the community needs. Trained staff are better prepared, more confident and effective in implementing and sustaining projects.
Recruiting a mixture of old and young people, present and former users of the organisation’s services with diverse skills in the management committee give strong backbone and community involvement. They understand service users better and are able to implement projects that users need. This enhances sustainability. Well-trained and supported staff can support project growth.
5. Develop marketing and communication plan
Trustees should make the presence of their organisations felt in the community. Staff should establish clear ways of sharing organisation’s profile and the good work it does in the community with large audiences. This can open doors for funding agencies, corporations and individuals to remember the organisation with giveaways and sponsorships of events.
The way staff in an organisation communicates and informs others about their programme’s goals and successes is key to creating and maintaining a base of community support.
The way they develop presentations about problems and how projects are reducing or eliminating those problems can help to publicise organisations to gain support and partnerships. Marketing involves building your image, community relations, awareness creation and developing members and trustees
These actions can contribute to sustaining the organisation’s programmes and functions by bringing support from a range of stakeholders and donors whose interest match what the organisation does.
Successful marketing and communication initiatives engage programme participants, key community members, stakeholders and decision-makers. Together, they can deliberate on how best the benefits they bring to their communities can be sustained far into the future.
6. Diversify your funding base:
Financial sustainability is an essential goal for most community groups. It allows them to become buoyant long enough to accomplish their goals.
Most organisations think that once they are set up, they will get grants from various sources to support the work they do infinitum. It doesn’t work like that. It’s good to develop long term partnerships with donors to support your work. However, it’s better to diversify your funding base by starting fundraising activities and events.
Diversifying your funding base by using several different strategies is often very helpful. By developing multiple funding sources, you are less likely to be in trouble if any one source dries up. There are many different possibilities for funding that community groups can take advantage of. Some of these are:
- Charging fees for services
Your organisation can devise plans to charge fees for some of your services. Activities which led themselves to such plans include luncheon clubs, social outings, advice sessions, etc.
- Support from local governments
Some projects, especially for older people and others for youth activities support objectives of many local authorities. Thus, if an organisation is able to develop such projects to high standards, it’s possible to court the partnership of local governments to take over funding of such projects.
- Organise fundraising activities and events
Your non-profit can organise both sponsored and stand-alone events like health walks, dinner dances, musical programmes to generate money for projects. You can recruit volunteers to wash cars for donations or sale cookies to generate income. Staff need to plan for the myriads of things an organisation can do to generate income to sustain projects.
- Set up endowments
If possible, your organisation can secure endowment funds from grants, bequest, or cash contributions which you can invest to generate residual income. You will use the interest earned to support your projects and activities. This leaves the principal to gain further interest.
You can also develop planned giving programmes such that people give you donations once or on regular basis to support your immediate needs. These charitable gifts may be acquired through wills, trusts, gift annuities, life insurance, securities, real estate, etc.
- Membership fees
There are also membership dues that can keep organisations and projects going. This is only if you are a membership organisation.
- In-kind Support
Make plans to solicit for resources from local stores or businesses to support projects. This can relieve money for the organisation to use on other projects. You could request for paint or building materials from the local hardware store or food from supermarket if the organisation runs foodbanks. Volunteers can render services for free. This is in-kind support. Make the seeking of in-kind support a core part of your organsation’s sustainability plan.
- Trading /contracts
Depending on how your organisation is set up, you can develop some trading ventures to generate regular income to sustain projects. In the UK and other countries, most organisations set up charity shops to sell donated items. This generates extra income for project support and sustainability.
Your group may decide to form a business as a nonprofit organisation or form a separate “for-profit” side of the organisation in order to avoid some of the often confusing regulations put on not-for-profit organisations.
For more information on how you can generate income from diversified sources to sustain your projects, please read: Discover 40 Funding Sources for Non-profit Organisations.
7. Avoid mission drift
As an organisation, you should be able to demonstrate how you have been able to keep your projects afloat since incorporation. In planning and developing new programmes and projects, you should always have your mission in mind. Never develop any project without considering the reason why the organisation was established.
All non-profit organisations, community groups and charities are set up to do some good work in disadvantaged communities. At birth, these organisations develop well-established aims and objectives, mission and vision which they pursue to bring changes or difference in the lives of people who benefit from their projects and activities.
Whatever projects you develop should support the established aims and objectives of your organisation. Doing this will always sustain your projects because this is what you have been set up to do, and this is what your service users want.
Charitable organisations across all countries vary in many ways, but all of them strive towards a shared goal: To sustain their establishments and the work they do beyond the initial founding day. It is normal that they develop sustainability plans, strategies and actions to carry them into the future.
The various steps organisations can follow to sustain their activities and benefits to communities are usually written in the Fundraising Strategy. This document details plans to strengthen organisations and programme support through various means. It includes processes to generate diverse resources.