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Sustainability Planning - It Takes More Than Money

  Posted in Management on Apr 15, 2011 by     1 Comments 
Sustainability Planning - It Takes More Than Money
Sustainability planning is an ambiguous concept. It is something that many funders are now requiring of potential grantees but it hasn’t been clearly defined as to what goes into a sustainability plan.

Most nonprofit leaders understand that funders and investors want to see that they are planning for the future and will be able to continue providing services after the funding cycle ends. However, without a template to follow many are confused on how to address these issues and what the funders are really looking for in a plan.

Working in a nonprofit organization, it’s easy to subscribe to Zig Ziglar’s comment of, “Money isn’t the most important thing in life, but it’s reasonably close to oxygen on the “gotta have it” scale.” The prevalent thought that money and fundraising are the keys to sustainability often lead people to simply include a fundraising plan as an answer to the “How are you addressing sustainability?” question. While I don’t disagree that nonprofits need money to survive, I would like to challenge you to take a more comprehensive approach to planning for the sustainability of your programs and organization. Taking a more comprehensive approach will set you apart from other nonprofits and show potential funders that you’re working hard to position your organization to be around for the long-term.

With this in mind, there are three areas or dimensions I recommend you address when developing a sustainability plan for your programs and services.

3 Dimensions of Program Sustainability Planning
  1. Resources
    Numerous resources are required to launch, operate, and sustain nonprofit organizations and programs. These include:

      Financial resources - While money is not the only issue that should be addressed in your sustainability plan, it is certainly an important one. Your organization should provide the funder with an overview of your donor development plan. Ideally, your plan should include raising funds from a variety of sources - foundations, individuals, government agencies, corporations, etc. - depending on where your greatest opportunities lie. Developing and sharing this plan will show that you are being proactive in raising additional funds to support your work.

      Human resources - Nonprofit organizations and programs require paid and volunteer staff to do the work, deliver the programs and services, and keep the organization running. I recommend that you document all the manpower required to continue providing your programs and services. These may include tutors, counselors, program managers, drivers, and other involved in providing services. You should also be sure to include the internal positions such as fundraisers, accountants, grant writers, board members, etc. Each of these positions impacts the long-term sustainability of your programs and organization. Therefore, in addition to documenting the required human resources you should address how you will fill and manage these resources over the long-term.

      Physical resources - Many organizations require a variety of physical resources in order to continue providing services and meeting community needs. Physical resources may include the buildings in which you operate, cars and/or busses, computer software and hardware, telephone systems, curriculum, or other items. These are items that your organization requires in order to continue providing services over the long-term and your sustainability plan should address how you will acquire, manage, update, and/or replace these resources when necessary.

  2. Results
    The results your organization and programs produce are another dimension of sustainability that should be addressed. Your sustainability plan should document the results you will be producing (and have produced), how you are currently collecting this information (or plan to), and how you will be sharing these results with the community. Producing positive results for your clients and community is a must if you want to be a sustainable organization. These results (if they are positive) will attract funding and substantiate the work you are doing.

  3. Relationships
    You may have heard the quote, “Relationships are primary, all else is derivative.” This is never more obvious than with nonprofit organizations. Think of your individual donors and major donors. These donations probably came based on a personal relationship with someone at your organization. Think of the foundations and businesses that provide your organization funding. Many times this door is opened based upon a relationship that is nurtured and developed over time. Think of those organizations you collaborate or partner with in your community. Again, these partnerships often wouldn’t happen without a relationship based on mutual trust and respect. These relationships should be documented and a plan should be developed to ensure they are nurtured and maintained. Your sustainability plan should also show how you plan to continue connecting and developing new relationships for your organization.

  4. Connecting the 3-Dimensions
    It is easy to consider the dimensions above one at a time. And it may seem obvious that each of these dimensions plays an important role in the long-term sustainability of your organizations and programs. However, by addressing each of these dimensions in a sustainability plan rather than just one or two, you are able to take a more comprehensive and strategic approach to sustainability planning. The resources you acquire are often a result of the relationships you’ve established. These same resources allow you to produce the results that are impacting your clients and community. In short, resources come through relationships and allow you to produce results - which in turn, encourages additional resources and attracts more relationships.

    Kevin Monroe, nonprofit consultant teaches, “There’s power in each dimension - your resources, results, and relationships, but there’s even greater power as you combine all of these assets, package them together, and leverage them for greater returns for your organization.” I wish you luck in your sustainability planning.

    Tiffany Applegate is Senior Partner at X Factor Consulting, she has provided thousands of nonprofits expertise and practical guidance for building, strengthening, and growing their organizations and increasing their impact. In addition to working directly with nonprofit organizations, Mrs. Applegate has served as a lead trainer for two federally funded capacity building initiatives and provides training and technical assistance for a variety of State and Federal programs. Get more information at

    Tags: Sustainability Planning  Nonprofit Organization Management  Donor Relations  Fundraising  
    Image Credits: | Wu Zherui
    08-23-2012   Comment by Rebecca
    Very Helpful. Thank You.
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