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We have a great program! How do we sustain it?

How many of us have found ourselves in this position:

Your organization received a demonstration grant for an innovative approach to address a community need. The evaluation results are promising. But the funds are time-limited. Now your organization is in the position of having to find resources to continue the initiative in a short period of time. So you begin looking for funding and because you don’t want a gap in services, you feel unable to limit yourselves only to funding that is directly applicable to your approach to meeting the community need.

Sustainability planning is about more than finding the money. Certainly finding the money is important, but financing is just a tool to getting your community need addressed.

 

What is Sustainability Planning? What is it not?

Sustainability planning is not a one-time process that happens when a grant is running out or there is a financial crisis. A sustainability plan is in essence a business plan that provides strategic direction, is continually updated as things change, and serves as a strong marketing tool so you never get into the position outlined above. In order for this to happen, you need to articulate the vision – paint a clear picture of what you want to sustain and why you want to sustain it. Start by answering these questions:

1. What outcome are you trying to achieve?

2. How will you know if you have achieved those outcomes?

Next you need to define your program. We know that you understand your program, but in order for potential funders to see the value, it helps to spend the time to articulate the key elements of your program or initiative that you want to sustain. Start by answering these questions:

1. What are the crucial elements of your initiative that need to be sustained for the outcome to remain achievable?

2. Why are these elements crucial to the outcome?

Is the Program a Shared Community Priority?

An important part of sustainability planning is engaging a range of stakeholders that can help you build the will to sustain the program or initiative. So once you have a clear idea of what you want to sustain, the next step is to articulate the community benefit. Start by answering these questions:

1. What need does your program address?

2. What’s the benefit to the community to addressing that need?

3. Can you show how you are effectively addressing that need?

Once you’ve articulated the community benefit, you can determine whose support you need, and how to garner broad community support  so that your program becomes a shared community priority. Start by answering these questions:

1. Who are the key stakeholders in this particular community need?

2. Who are the key stakeholders in the community who can make your vision and program a reality?

The All-Important Ask

It is only once you’ve thought through the four steps above that you can do a good job of articulating the ask so that funders can immediately see themselves backing. Start by answering these questions:

1. What is it that you want funders to do?

2. How does your program benefit the funder? Does it help them meet their legal or established mandates?

Recap: Steps to Setting the Strategic Direction

As we discussed in the previous sections, the five major steps to setting a strategic direction are:

1. Articulating The Vision: What are you trying to achieve? How will you know when you get there?

2. Defining Your Program: What the key elements of your program/initiative that you want to sustain?

3. Community Benefit: What is the benefit to the community? What need does your program address? Can you show how you are effectively addressing that need?

4. Garnering Broad Community Support: Who are the key stakeholders who can make your vision and program a reality?

5. The Ask: What do you want funders to do? How does your program benefit the funder? (e.g., Does it help them meet their legal mandate?)

Once all five of these elements are in place you are now ready to move on to the kind of strategic financing that will allow you to fund exactly the activities that can achieve your desired outcome. These steps can help you to avoid the common mistake of focusing on the money first and then designing the program or initiative to fit the funders’ requirements.

 

Resources

Sustainability Planning and Resource Development for Youth Mentoring Programs

This free guide was prepared by the Hamilton Fish Institute on School and Community Violence & the National Mentoring Center at Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, with support from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Justice. It explores key planning and fundraising strategies for youth mentoring programs, but is also applicable to other sustainability planning efforts.

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Why you shouldn’t do this on your own: Making Your Stakeholder Engagement Process Successful

Picture of two men sparring
 Learning from the Coordinated Chronic Disease Project

During my time in the public sector, I observed many stakeholder engagement processes that went really well and led to meaningful change. Unfortunately, I also process observed like this:

Picture of two men sparringParticipants arrive. They have been told it’s an opportunity to provide input to an important planning process. After listening to a 20 minute presentation, audience members sign up to share their input. In three minute comments, audience members rush to get to their main point, largely focusing on their strongly held views. As the staff listen, they feel exhausted by the idea of bridging all these conflicting priorities. The information is mostly left unused in the final plan.

This week’s blog highlights a real life example on how to put your stakeholder engagement process successfully into action so you never have to sit through or participate in a process like the one described above.

Tips to Make your Stakeholder Engagement Efforts Successful

In my last blog, I thought I could do this on my own: Why engaging stakeholders throughout your initiative is so important, I shared what stakeholder engagement is and why it is important. I also offered four tips to make your stakeholder engagement process successful, including defining your stakeholders early in the process, developing a stakeholder engagement plan, developing a communication plan, and using a high-quality facilitator. Please keep your eye out for our upcoming checklist that has a bit more detail about each tip and how to put them into action.

Making it Happen – The Coordinated Chronic Disease State Framework

In 2012, Spark implemented a stakeholder engagement process to develop the Coordinated Chronic Disease State Framework, an initiative led by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.  Here’s how we did it:

noun_341553_ccThe stakeholders were identified. We worked collaboratively with CDPHE to identify a broad range of stakeholders at the state and local level. The stakeholders included local public health, higher education, health care providers and associations, community organizations, state agencies, advocacy organizations, provider and family members, board members, funders, and researchers.

noun_14382A stakeholder engagement plan was developed & implemented. We used a two-pronged approach by hosting seven community forums and convening a State Advisory Team. Over 125 stakeholders attended forums in Montrose, Frisco, Denver, Sterling, La Junta, Alamosa, and Durango. They and the Advisory Team gained a deeper understanding of a coordinated chronic disease approach, provided input on themes and approaches from the community forums and prioritized strategies to include in the framework.

noun_33104_ccA communication plan was developed and implemented. We partnered with the CDPHE Health Communications Unit to develop messages and materials to reach our stakeholders. A monthly newsletter was distributed, meetings were broadcast and archived on-line, a webpage was created on CDPHE’s website, and messages were sent out through Twitter and Facebook.

noun_175971_ccAll meetings were facilitated thoughtfully. Our staff facilitated the community forums and State Advisory Team meetings. Our approach to facilitation established trust and engaged all members. For community forum participants, this was their experience:

 

Participants arrive and have been told that the state is seeking to develop a coordinated approach to chronic disease programming. After listening to a presentation on CDPHE’s chronic disease efforts and a cross-walk of state chronic disease plans, participants self-select into small groups. The groups discuss their vision for the coordination of the chronic disease programming and discuss action steps in five domain areas (community-clinical linkages, health systems, policy and environmental changes, education and communications, and data surveillance). Each group reported their small group discussions out to the large group. They are told how their information will be used by CDPHE and the State Advisory Team before adjourning.

The  Take-Away

Not every stakeholder participation process is going to look just like my example here. Every situation is different, and every set of stakeholders in a particular issue will have their own challenges to face. But I’m hoping that by telling you this story – about how we’ve engaged stakeholders about the Coordinated Chronic Disease State Framework – you might see not only how the change you seek might be advanced by engaging your stakeholders thoughtfully, but also how to accomplish that engagement.

Resources
  • Community Toolbox Stakeholder Engagement Tools: The Community Tool Box is a big fan of participatory process. That means involving as many as possible of those who are affected by or have an interest in any project, initiative, intervention, or effort. In this section, they discuss how to find and involve the right stakeholders and respond to their needs.
  • Brochures on Public Involvement, Environmental Protection Agency: Due to extensive mandates requiring public involvement in environmental processes, the EPA has provided many tools on their website for engaging a broad range of stakeholders. In particular, the brochures are relevant to engaging the public on any issue. They provide steps and information on budgeting for public involvement, identifying people to involve, technical assistance, outreach, using public input, evaluating public involvement, improving public meetings, and overcoming barriers.