Grant Writing Advice and Tips: The Grant Helpers Blog

The Five Key Elements of an Effective Sustainability Plan for Grants

Posted by Michelle Hansen on Wed, Jan 29, 2014 @ 14:01 PM

We often hear the word “sustainability” used in its environmental context, referring to efforts to prevent the loss or depletion of resources. In the nonprofit sector, the term is used to describe an organization’s ability to maintain its operations over the long term. Ellen Karsh–former director of the New York City Office of Grants Administration and co-author of The Only Grant-Writing Book You’ll Ever Need–defines sustainability as a set of “plans for keeping programs and organizations up and running once the grant period is over.”

Sustainability planning is important for nonprofits because it prepares the program or project for success beyond the phases being funded. Many grant applications ask you to describe your sustainability plan; funders want assurance you will be able to continue your work after their support expires. Here are five key elements of an effective sustainability plan to give your grant proposal a competitive edge while also equipping your program or project for long-term success.

    1. Include a clear long-term vision.

      For your initiative to be truly viable even after the grant period has ended, you need to be clear about where you are and where you want to go. What is your vision for the project after three years, five years, and 10 years? What is your goal for how the program will improve the lives of the people you serve over those same time intervals? In addition to showing numbers—people served, size of budget, amount of resources used, number of personnel required to carry out the plan, etc.—also show a long-term vision. Clarifying and articulating a long-term vision for your initiative will then guide your sustainability efforts.

        2. Begin right away.

          Planning to maintain your program or project far into the future should be a part of your efforts from the start; otherwise you could be left scrambling to find funding after the initial grant period ends. Take sustainability into account as you develop your program, for example, by seeking additional support as an early and ongoing project activity. In your grant application, show funders that you aren’t treating sustainability as an afterthought. Describe specific steps you will take in the first three to six months of the program to assure its long-term survival.

            3. Describe how outcomes will be documented and shared.

              In a previous blog post we discussed the importance of program evaluation in order to measure your initiative’s success and to identify future improvements. Part of sustainability planning involves determining how you will document the results of that evaluation and share them with the public. Creating a comprehensive plan can take a tremendous amount of effort, yet it is still worth the work. This plan could include simple items such as an article in a donor newsletter or a press release to the media. It could also include more substantial measures, such as sliding scale user fees to help support programs once their value has been demonstrated.  To make a true comprehensive plan there should be wide-reaching outreach efforts to share your results and further goals. Communicating your results is key for building community support, which in turn increases the likelihood of long-term sustainability.

                4. Involve key stakeholders.

                  For an initiative to be sustainable, it needs to have a strong foundation of committed supporters. One way to build that foundation is to invite key stakeholders to become actively involved in the project.

                  This might mean establishing a workgroup or advisory board to provide input on the project’s maintenance and growth. You could also invite key decision-makers in the community to visit the program firsthand to witness its progress. Your sustainability plan should clearly outline how you are going to reach out and involve key stakeholders.

                    5. Determine your specific funding strategy.

                      In your sustainability plan, describe the types and sources of funding you are going to pursue to maintain your project beyond the initial grant period. Be as specific as possible in your descriptions. Will you be seeking other grant support, and if so, which funders are you going to approach? Will you be hosting a special fundraising event?  Will you charge program fees? Will some elements of the program generate revenue?  Will stakeholders provide financial support? Other types of support? Your plan should give funders a clear sense of the steps you will take during the grant period to make your program financially sustainable.

                      If you need help designing the sustainability section of a grant proposal, or with any other part of the grant or sustainability process, are here to assist you. Please don’t hesitate to contact us, and one of our grant experts will be in touch.

                      Topics: funding strategy, nonprofit funding, nonprofit, evaluation, sustainability plan, stakeholders, comprehensive plan, nonprofit resource, nonprofit resources, evaluation in application, sustainability

                      Program Evaluation Grants

                      Posted by Alisyn Franzen on Wed, Nov 20, 2013 @ 14:11 PM

                      According to the Office of Educational Assessment at the University of Washington, program evaluation is “the systematic assessment of the processes and/or outcomes of a program with the intent of furthering its development and improvement.” In this blog, we discuss a few basic ideas about program evaluation and provide a useful resource for those including evaluation components in their grant applications.

                      Program evaluation is an important part of the planning process for any educational program, as it measures the success of what you originally wanted to accomplish. As suggested by the above definition, program evaluation can also identify areas of strengths and weaknesses to help you plan for the future.

                      Program Evaluation GrantsFor example, say a school receives a grant for increasing student learning in the STEM disciplines. A low-cost and simple evaluation process would include pre- and post-project grades for the students in STEM areas. If the proposal goals also included self-perceptions, the evaluation plan could also have students completing a self-assessment of their abilities before and after completing a STEM program experience. The data collected can then be used to indicate the strengths and weaknesses of the STEM program.

                      Grant applications often require that applicants submit an evaluation plan as part of their application package. Program evaluations can require additional costs, and the cost of evaluation is entirely contingent upon the scope and nature of the evaluation activities and measures requested. The National Science Foundation's “rule of thumb” about evaluation budgets is 10% of the total grant amount.

                      “A Basic Guide to Program Evaluation” by Carter McNamara is one resource that could help when putting together a program evaluation component. The guide includes discussion of goal-based evaluation, outcomes evaluation, and process evaluation. It also includes discussion of some program evaluation myths.

                      Not only do many grants require an evaluation component, but many grants will fund program evaluation as an effort independent of the program itself. If you need assistance in identifying funding sources that might pay for your program evaluation, or with designing the evaluation section of a proposal, please do not hesitate to contact us. One of our experts will be happy to work with you.


                      Image credit: munir

                      Topics: evaluation, program evaluation grants, program evaluation grant, program evaluation in application, evaluation in application, grant evaluation, program evaluation