PLANNING FOR SUSTAINABILITY
Resources are a necessary ingredient for any successful community health or education effort. However, the reality of limited funding and competition for scarce resources, coupled with the longer time window often needed for systems change efforts, can create challenges for community coalitions and initiatives seeking to advance health equity and promote optimal child and family wellbeing. Planning for sustainability can help mitigate these challenges and help your coalition thrive for the long term.
What is Sustainability?
Sustainability builds on a framework that encompasses the full range of resources — such as funding, time, staff capacity, organizational buy-in, leadership, and communications — needed to accomplish a common goal. It also includes the supportive structures, policies, and processes that can sustain energy and momentum toward long-lasting changes beyond the timeline of a specific initiative or grant.
The Centers for Disease Control’s Healthy Communities Program defines sustainability as “a community’s ongoing capacity and resolve to work together to establish, advance, and maintain effective strategies that continuously improve health and quality of life for all.”
While grants and pots of funding may come and go, effective coalitions that are built with sustainability in mind are able to thrive beyond the confines of a specific grant cycle. Integrating sustainability in coalition planning allows communities to consider both short- and long-term strategies and outcomes — to remain adept at responding to immediate needs and priorities while also developing and moving toward a long-term, common vision for health equity in a community. Sustainability planning also helps coalitions and members to avoid burnout and build in systems and milestones that can track progress and movement forward.
Key components of coalition sustainability include the following:
Strong and ongoing community stakeholder buy-in and support, including decision makers and those most impacted by inequities in a community
Collaborative leadership roles and leadership development pathways
Sufficient funding resources to maintain operations, ideally from diverse and flexible funding streams
Effective and transparent channels of communication across members and constituents
Policies and structures (including robust data systems) for assessment, monitoring, and evaluation that can guide the development and refinement of practices and strategies
Structures that support leadership and member transitions
Data storytelling capacities and strategies, to effectively convey key messages to targeted audiences and decision makers
Featured Tools and Resources
Developed by Washington University in St Louis, the Program Sustainability Assessment Tool is a 40 question self-assessment. Program staff and stakeholders alike can take the assessment to evaluate the sustainability capacity of a program. The tool’s website also includes helpful resources for understanding program sustainability and best practices.
Highlighted below are some useful resources and tools to assess sustainability in your community and identify strategies to ensure the long-term success and continuity of your work.
Chapter 46: Planning for Sustainability (Community Tool Box): This chapter of the Community Tool Box covers a wide range of topics, steps, and strategies to ensure sustainability of your organization or initiative.
A Sustainability Planning Guide for Healthy Communities (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Healthy Communities Program): The Sustainability Planning Guide is a synthesis of science- and practice-based evidence designed to help coalitions, public health professionals, and other community stakeholders develop, implement, and evaluate a successful sustainability plan. It provides a process for sustaining policy strategies and related activities, introduces various approaches to sustainability, and demonstrates sustainability planning in action with real-life examples.
Sustainability: Defining a Legacy, Creating Community Peace (Institute for Community Peace): This document serves as the participant manual for the Institute for Community Peace's Immersion Training and offers examples of key strategies for financial sustainability.
Resource Building (Racial Equity Tools): This section includes content about work that various philanthropies and their partner organizations are doing to promote investment and build capacities around racial equity, social justice, and inclusion. It also provides resources related to funding for racial equity and social justice work.
Factors that Predict Financial Sustainability of Community Coalitions: Five Years of Findings from the PROSPER Partnership Project (Greenberg et al): This study is a longitudinal investigation of the Promoting School-community-university Partnerships to Enhance Resilience (PROSPER) partnership model designed to evaluate the level and sustainability of funding for community prevention teams, including which factors impact teams' generation of sustainable funding.
An Assessment of the Sustainability and Impact of Community Coalitions Once Federal Funding Has Expired (NORC at the University of Chicago): This report examines the long-term sustainability and impact of community coalitions that were funded by the Community Access Program (CAP) and its successor, the Healthy Communities Access Program (HCAP). CAP and HCAP represented a large federal investment designed to strengthen local safety nets through community coalitions; from 2000 to 2006, these programs provided $525 million in grants to 260 coalitions across 45 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This study utilized the experience of the HCAP grantees as a lens to explore the sustainability and impact of community coalitions once their initial federal funding has expired.