SEI is a leader in guiding organizations through planning and implementing the actions needed for long-term sustainability of community service programs and the results they achieve. Many people believe that sustainability means nothing more than securing money and fundraising. We decided to put that principle to a test, and analyzed all available research on the subject. Our investigation found that some groups thrive even during recessions, while others collapse even in good times. The data clearly shows that sustainability requires much more than money, and that there are a consistent set of actions and capabilities that lead to long-term sustainability.

Since 2005, we have assisted diverse nonprofit organizations, public agencies and multi-agency collaborations in systematic planning for long-term sustainability. One such project was conducted for First 5 Santa Barbara County. This project posed the unique challenge of facilitating a process with five different countywide collaborations simultaneously, each involving three to twelve agencies, to develop a comprehensive sustainability plan for each. These collaborative initiatives spanned the fields of Family Support, Oral Health, Early Care and Education Infrastructure, Newborn Home Visiting, and Early Mental Health and Other Special Needs.

Our process engaged each collaborative group in defining their vision and community results to be sustained, building broad-based public support, enhancing internal capacity, strengthening strategic partnerships and developing a long-range strategic financing plan. Best practices and proven strategies tailored to each group were brought into each step of the process by SEI.

We also knew that a strong communication strategy would be paramount. SEI met the communications challenge by creating multiple check points to bring all of the collaborations together for cross initiative coordination and knowledge leveraging.

In 2009, four years after completing this project, Pat Wheatley, Executive Director of First 5 Santa Barbara County, commented that:

“I sincerely believe that the extensive Sustainability Planning that we did with SEI and our funded agencies was one of the best investments we made to look at long term impacts of key funding strategies at First 5. Even in the current fiscal crisis, the framework and collaborative work that took place with our agencies has provided a basis that is frequently utilized by our agencies and by our commission. There is no question that the months that went into the Sustainability Planning, and the opportunities that the initiatives have taken to update and enhance those plans, have provided an important foundation for looking at our next steps in prioritizing funding. The initiatives that really utilized the planning process and built upon it are frequently the ones that are most resilient in these challenging times.”

We have subsequently led dozens of other organizations across California’s Kings, Monterey and Stanislaus Counties through comprehensive sustainability planning, all with outstanding outcomes.

Please click here to view a sample sustainability plan from one of the Santa Barbara countywide initiatives: Santa Barbara County Oral Health Initiative Sustainability Plan