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Program Sustainability Definition and Why it Matters

What is Program Sustainability?

There are different ways to look at a program sustainability definition. How organizations define this will depend on what aspect they are looking to sustain. For some, it may be a reference to streams of funding, while others will want a more sustainable plan for volunteers or staff members.

In this way, it becomes difficult to give a single, sweeping definition. However, you can understand program sustainability by looking at it through the lens of a ‘backup plan’. Essentially, sustainability is an organization’s capacity to carry on with a program even if a major source of funding is cut off from them.

Program sustainability should be planned for right at the beginning of the process. In fact, it should be an integral part of your organization’s overall strategy. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t craft a sustainability plan for programs that have already been rolled out.

Factors Affecting Program Sustainability

If you’re wondering what a sustainability program should include, here are a few factors that you should keep in mind as an organization:

Long Term Vision

For a program to be sustainable, the organization needs to take a long term approach to sustainability. Focusing on short term goals is a sure fire way to overlook other measures that can actually make your program sustainable.

By keeping your organizational goals in mind, you’ll be looking at the bigger picture with an aim to reach your ultimate goals instead of meeting only short sighted targets.

Donor Retention

One of the key elements of making a program sustainable is having a dependable funding source. This is where donor retention comes into play. Having a wide, dependable donor base ensures sustainable means of funding, which can keep you going without putting the bulk of expectations on a few donors who can impact your program greatly if they decide to back out.

Hire the Right People

Your organization will depend on the people who are working as part of it. A high turnover rate will negatively impact your goals and program’s functionality. Make sure your hiring process is fine tuned to screen candidates who are passionate and dedicated to the cause that your organization stands for. This will mean you don’t have to keep doubling back to find more people.

Perfecting Instead of Re-Inventing

Innovation is not a bad thing, but constantly coming up with new ideas and ways to do things can be damaging to a sustainable vision because it keeps you from focusing on perfecting anything. Instead, you’re in a constant state of re-inventing. Try focusing on your shortfalls and making them better instead of finding newer ways of doing (and teaching others) things.

These are just a few examples of what a good program sustainability plan should focus on. Every organization will have a different way of looking at sustainability but as long as you are thinking in terms of making your organization and programs capable of functioning without relying on a set few donors, you’ll be good to go.  

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