At SEI, we seek to help organizations sustain their efforts over the long-run through effective sustainability planning and practice. We do not believe that sustainability is about continuing programs and funding indefinitely because we know that as communities change over time, the demand for services may grow or shrink or priorities may shift.  New, more effective approaches to providing services may be discovered and implemented.  Changes are also certain to occur in sources of funding and public policies.  Long-term sustainability is about ensuring that positive results are continued for years to come. It requires a mindset that is shared with your staff and supporters and a specific and actionable plan.

SEI has adapted the Center for Civic Partnership’s definition of sustainability when working with organizations, community groups, coalitions, and others:

The continuation of community health or quality of life benefits over time.

Sustainability is an organization’s ability to create lasting improvements in health and well-being for an extended period of time despite ongoing changes in funding sources, program models, service providers, community demographics, and other factors.

In this blog series, we explore the elements of sustainability, and how an organization (a nonprofit organization, a community group, a coalition, a government agency, etc.) can continue to create positive results in their community over time.


Part I: Introduction to Sustainability Planning

The Eight Essential Elements

So, how do you approach the task of ensuring the continuation of community health or quality of life benefits over time? It sounds so big and daunting, especially considering all of the other things that are likely on your plate such as tending to programs, raising funds, managing staff, working with the board, engaging the public… the list goes on and on.

First, take a deep breath.

Then, commit. By committing to developing your sustainability plan, you are working on fund development, you are documenting future plans, you are looking closely at your programs, and most importantly, you are addressing your client and community needs. A good sustainability plan rolls this information into a working document that acts in tandem with your strategic plan, your communications and development plans, and your program logic models to guide the overall organization towards long-term thinking and action.

Over many years [Since 2010] SEI has worked with First 5 San Bernardino and the Inland Empire Community Collaborative to develop a capacity building program that takes participating organizations through the sustainability planning process. Originally based on research by The Finance Project, SEI’s capacity building program focuses on eight essential elements to sustaining community initiatives and organizations.

Many organizations think of sustainability as funding, but as you can see, that is only one of the essential elements.

Although The Finance Project is no longer in operation, SEI’s work with organizations in Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, Stanislaus, Kings, and Riverside Counties, and with other organizations in Nevada and California has borne out the value of these elements to sustaining the work over the long-term. Additionally, the significance of these elements is corroborated by large national foundations and other groups, including work from the CDC’s Healthy Communities Program.

Continue to Part II of this blog series for tools you can use to lay the foundation for sustainability planning.