by Mandy Pearce
[Sustainability] – the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level.
Now that we are on the same page as to the definition of ‘sustainability’, let’s talk about it in relation to your organization. Your organization is a business. Many of you know that one of my favorite saying is, “Nonprofit is your tax id status, it should not be your business model.” If you are not fostering a culture of sustainability in your business, you aren’t exhibiting the leadership that leads to a thriving organization. Part of growing an organization is retaining support (donors), increasing support in a variety of diversified ways (corporate, individual, partnerships, etc.), and having a strategy for maintaining and growing going forward (sustainability).
If you have ever worked on a grant application, created a strategic plan, or had a conversation with a potential major or planned giving donor, the conversation of ‘sustainability’ has probably come up a few times. As it should! These folks want to invest in your organization and want to know what their ROI will be in the future. If you don’t have a plan for sustainability, how will you share about the impending impact with partners and how you will keep creating impact for years to come?
More often than not, there are very generic replies to how we are going to sustain a program, project or organization. Some of the popular WRONG answers that both Michael Webb and I have seen, and that most of us have inevitably used, are:
God will provide.
We plan to develop alternative funding sources, including foundations, personal donors, and fundraising events.
Because we are a new organization and just beginning to create a fundraising plan, we are working to diversify our income streams over the next few years.
We are implementing a special event and the proceeds will benefit this program/project in the next fiscal year.
What does the RIGHT answer look like?
Our operating philosophy reflects a commitment to planning in order to create sustainable solutions that achieve our long-term vision for addressing recognized needs in our community, by doing these things….
Right Answer #1
We have a long-standing commitment to the planning process, as reflected in our current strategic plan, which emphasizes funding and identifies the resources needed to continue our work in the future. A copy of our strategic plan is available upon request
Right Answer #2
We have a designated staff person responsible for raising these resources, and they have a successful ##-year track record of doing so. (Cite some indicator of their success / credibility)
Right Answer #3
As the leadership of our organization, our Board of Directors has an explicit and committed role as both fundraisers and donors, as stated in their description of responsibilities, which they all individually honor. Our Board of Directors Pledge is available upon request.
Right Answer #4
We have a track record of successful fundraising events, appeal letters, personal donations, and other initiatives for cultivating resources. *Give examples
Right Answer #5
We have a successful track record of managing projects of similar scope. *Give examples
Right Answer #6
We have established relationships with other community partners, service providers, volunteers, funders, and other stakeholders who are committed to working with us to achieve our mutual missions through this project. *Give examples
Right Answer #7
We have an Operating Reserve that covers at least three months of operating expenses, and a policy that governs how our reserves can and cannot be used. Our Operating Reserve policy is available upon request.
Right Answer #8
Our grant writer and Board of Directors have received training from Funding for Good and/or Grant STEPs Consulting Group on how to cultivate sustainable funding and other resources using proven, replicable strategies. *Insert any organization where you are receiving development training that is relevant.
Keep in mind that these ‘right answers’ won’t matter unless your Board of Directors is committed to making them happen and a culture of sustainability is alive and well in your organization.
The culture of sustainability is not only about where the next donation is coming from, but it’s about investing time and resources, ahead of time. Investing in such things as staff and board training, establishing and building partnerships, strategic planning, and year-round planning and engagement. If all of these pieces are cultivated on an ongoing basis, you will be ready with answers to the sustainability question when it is asked by a foundation, potential partner or donor.