Sustainability Toolkit for Service Providers


  • What does it mean for a program to be "sustainable"? How does one define "sustainability"?

  • How does one create, maintain, and build upon a sustainability plan? What are the elements?

  • What role does data collection, analysis, and reporting play in being sustainable?

Program sustainability is most often thought of in terms of maintaining funding, whether this involves extending an initial investment or obtaining new sources of funding. However, building a long-term sustainable project involves more than simple fund raising.

Sustainability means . . .

Recognizing that sustainability is more than seeking funding - it's about building a strong data-driven organization within your community

For a program to be sustainable, staff must conduct ongoing assessment of program performance through data collection, analysis, and reporting of results to program staff and key stakeholders. Program sustainability involves considering the individuals and community in which services are provided. In fact, programs are more likely to endure when they have the support of local stakeholders - particularly when community members invest in creating a program which aligns with their needs and priorities. This requires that both program participants and members of the community perceive the value of the service and are both champions and advocates of the program. Further, the ability of a program to adapt to meet the needs of the community and respond to local context is another key element of sustainability.

Maximizing all of your resources - including internal (staff, volunteers, advisory/executive board members) and external (partnerships with other organizations)

There are several organizational factors that are key to sustainability, including strong leadership and building a team of well qualified and trained staff, who are working in concert with the organization's mission. Programs that are embedded in the day-to-day operations of an organization are also more sustainable, particularly those that have access to a variety of resources and have the ability to work in partnership with other organizations.

Understanding that relying on a limited range of funding sources leaves your program at risk

Creating a sustainable program requires implementing a diverse, creative, and strategic fund raising plan. In addition to seeking grants, hosting fundraising events, and requesting donations (in-kind and monetary), there are other ways to fund support for your organization. These include targeting not only your large donors, but creating a separate strategy for those who donate smaller amounts to your organization (e.g., $5 to $500 a year) and find ways to stay in touch with this group to maintain their interest in your organization. This might involve a special event or a newsletter. Another option would be to group supporters who have something in common (e.g., everyone is from the same profession) and target fundraising efforts to address their specific interests. Other strategies could include creating a memorial gift program, selling advertisement space in your organization's newsletter or website; selling products with your logo at fundraising events; or developing a social economy enterprise where the profits are used to support the overall program.

When does one begin planning for sustainability - is it near the end of the program lifecycle? Can one assume that if the program is efficient and effective, the project will survive? Research indicates the answer to both of these questions is "no". Sustainability planning is a separate program activity and should begin at the outset of the program.