Grant proposals often ask applicants to address sustainability. Sustainability is defined as the ability to maintain programming and its benefits over time. Projects that demonstrate sustainability are valuable to funders, because the funding provided during the grant period results in long-term changes, programming, or benefits.
Whether you are planning to submit a grant application or you already received funding, planning for sustainability is a valuable activity. The Program Sustainability Assessment Tool, developed at the Center for Public Health Systems Science at Washington University in St. Louis, identifies seven key domains of sustainability. These include:
Environmental support: A supportive internal/external climate for the program contributes to sustainability. Examples of environmental support may include a school district fully adopting an instructional strategy that was implemented from a grant across schools.
Funding stability: Grants provide funding for projects/activities to be implemented. Funding stability is when there are consistent, non-grant funds to support a program. Examples of funding stability include a school district committing to sustain new devices that were purchased by replacing devices as they wear out or a school district adding funds for a position to their annual budget at the end of a grant.
Partnerships: Programs are more sustainable when they have developed partnerships with stakeholders. Partnerships can help to broaden possible resources and provide/sustain services. An example of partnerships would be partnering with the local military base and other organizations to offer an annual career fair.
Organizational capacity: Throughout a grant term, organizational capacity may be built. Organizational capacity can encompass many areas. One example would be transitioning from a hired professional learning contractor to an internal staff member in the district.
Evaluation capacity: Some grant programs require an external evaluator. When an organization builds evaluation capacity, the organization has learned to assess the program, interpret the data, and make data-based decisions on its own.
Program adaptation: Over time, the most effective components of a program should be sustained, and a program may need to adapt to allow for this change. For example, a program may involve implementing several instructional approaches, but only some are deemed effective. The program may then use the instructional approach that is working and adapt it to be used at a higher level.
Communications: Regular, strategic communication with stakeholders and the public about a program can help gain visibility and garner support. Examples may include developing websites for programs, starting a newsletter, or having regular meetings with community partners.
Project directors can review the domains of sustainability and have conversations with their team about actions that contribute to sustainability in each domain. It is important to note that a project may not demonstrate sustainability in all domains.
The Program Sustainability Assessment Tool (https://sustaintool.org/psat/) is an excellent resource for those interested in planning for sustainability. The Shaffer Evaluation Group uses this tool as part of our approach to evaluating federal grants. To learn more about our evaluation services, please visit our website.