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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.



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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How Groups become Change Agents

When we think of change agents, we think “individual.” That one person who takes the lead, rejects the status quo, embraces innovation, pushes the boundaries, takes chances, even breaks the rules. Public policy groups, especially the legislatively-mandated Council, Task Force, Blue Ribbon Commission, have hefty mandates and short timeframes – something a change agent would embrace. But how do you find/recruit not just one but a council full of change agents? You don’t. That is, you don’t recruit them – you make them. Or more accurately, they make themselves into change agents through a planning process that is focused on action, necessary conditions, leveraging partners, and identifying the gaps that they then fill.

What Are Strategic Roadmaps?

Many groups undergo strategic planning processes, hold planning retreats, or develop logic models to jump start their work. But nothing beats a strategic roadmap process for creating a dynamic action plan for a group. We, at Spark, call the outcome of the process a “roadmap” because it lays out on one page the “roads” and “turns” that need to be taken to reach the final destination.

In a nutshell, a strategic roadmap is a backwards planning process where we define the big change we want to see and then define smaller changes to lead to that big change. Instead of working backward through what you’ll do, they work backward through how you can influence change. They begin by focusing on the end of the road – the big picture, why we are here goal, which is ambitious but achievable, and then work backwards looking at what is the precondition to this goal (that is, what is immediately prior to getting to this big picture change), and continuing to work backward until you get to smaller changes that are achievable in the near term.

So, why a roadmap? Simply put: So the group doesn’t get lost, take a wrong tour, or inadvertently follow a detour. Keeping your eye on the prize when the prize lies at the end of a complex set of conditions and actions requires keeping all eyes on the road. A Road Map keeps a group focused, tracks progress, and inspires action. In short: Groups → with a Roadmap → become Change Agents.Farm to School Logo

A Group of Change Agents is Born

The Colorado Farm to School Task Force (TF) – a 13 member appointed body enacted by the Colorado legislature in 2010 – is now working in concert with each other to bring “collaborative, sustainable implementation of farm to school statewide.”

How It Started

At their first staffed meeting in February 2011, the TF was guided through a strategic roadmapping process. They:

1. Began by identifying the end of the road or where they wanted the state of Colorado to be in 15 years.

2. Identified the two possible ways (“conditions”) by which farm to school could be implemented – either (1) Colorado schools & producers work directly together or (2) Colorado producers sell to a food hub that sells to schools.

3. Identified the numerous “preconditions” necessary to implement farm to school. Preconditions are the bridges on the road – without them, you cannot get to the other side of the river where your destination lies.

4. Identified exactly which organizations were doing what to build each of the needed bridges.

5. When all the activities were connected to each bridge, the nuts and bolts and even entire girders of a bridge that were missing became apparent. It is the missing parts of the bridges (the “gaps”) that became the work of the Task Force.

Click here to see the FTS Task Force Road Map!

How Much Has Changed?

Kids at lunchThe TF runs like a well-oiled machine. Everyone keeps on task, following the roadmap action step by action step. In its first year, the TF:

  • Provided outreach and technical assistance by request to schools, producers and communities around the state interested in starting or expanding FTS efforts.
  • Supported the development of direct technical assistance to schools and producers, including the Durango Farm to School Conference, which brought together five school districts and 22 local producers to jointly develop bid processes and safety protocols to meet the needs of both schools and producers; the Connecting Local Farms to Schools Conference that brought together more than 200 attendees representing schools, community groups, parents, producers, public health and state agencies to engage in workshops ranging from “getting started” to “ramping up” farm to school efforts; and the Southwest Pre-bid Conference that resulted in four school districts releasing local produce and product bids (three for the first time) and 13 producers successfully landing contracts with the school districts.
  • Released two Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on the new USDA “geographic preference” option, which has been a source of confusion in the field. This option allows school food purchasers to give preference to locally grown foods when comparing bids.
  • Released a 50-state legislative scan of farm to school and healthy school food legislation introduced in 2010-2011.
  • Supported pilot projects by helping stakeholders define and refine five food hub projects, and helped locate funding sources and advocate for financial support.
  • Conducted quarterly meetings around the state to learn about the needs of different regions. In 2011, the Task Force met in Pueblo, San Luis Valley, Longmont and Denver.
  • Developed a Farm to School Grant Template to provide assistance to schools to find funding and apply for grants to buy equipment and upgrade kitchen facilities.
  • Provided letters of support and Technical Assistance commitment to farm to school projects.
  • Designed the Farm to School Information Hub Website, a centralized, sustainable information hub that purposefully connects the many different farm to school related resources in one easy to navigate website, including an active and supported peer networking component. The website will include information for producers, schools and communities.
  • Received a major grant from the Colorado Health Foundation to support its 2012 activities.
Fire Up Your Policy Group

If you work with a group or are a member of a group that is not yet “all it can be,” consider whether it would benefit from a strategic roadmapping process to:

1. Have a shared understanding of what is trying to be accomplished.

2. Have a realistic picture of the complex change process needed to reach the long-term goal.

3. Have precise language and action steps to avoid misunderstandings or confusion.

If any or all of these ring true, your group may very well need its own roadmap! For more information, visit

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