Sustainability: Mindset + Strategic Action
Posted 6/24/2016 7:40 PM by Angella Brown
Use the four pillars to take strategic actions toward sustainability
throughout the life of a project.
The Youth CareerConnect (YCC) grant program offers an exciting opportunity to strengthen the links between student learning, future college and career pathways, and the domestic talent pipeline for employers, especially in the critically important fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. As a YCC grantee, with your hard work and ‘in the trenches’ experience over the last two years now reaping good results, you can see clearly what program elements are working well.
As with any grant-funded programming, a primary concern for the YCC program is what will happen when the grant ends and a specific stream of funding is no longer available. You can best address this question through planning and strategic action throughout the funding period, to ensure that beyond the life of the grant, key activities can continue to meet the needs of the people served.
The daily work that leverages program accomplishments can often consume the energy and attention of staff. For many, planning for program sustainability becomes a “do later” task. However, now that the initial relationships, systems, and programming strategies are in place, it is essential to consciously integrate a focus on future sustainability into your day-to-day work.
Think Sustainability: Ask the Essential Questions and Take Strategic Action
What do you want to sustain? Assess your current activities and program elements closely and honestly.
- What elements of the current program are essential to the desired positive outcomes for students and employers?
- What elements of the program will leave a lasting legacy for youth and employers in your region?
- Are there elements of the current program that others are already fulfilling?
- Might there be additional options for sustaining program elements that have not yet been fully explored?
The point is you do not have to sustain the entire program as it currently stands. You can begin now to identify the elements with the greatest long-lasting impact and to make the sustainability of those elements your first priority.
Use the Four Pillars Model to Direct Your Thinking, Strategy, and Actions
Sustainability is about more than fundraising. To ensure that essential activities funded through the YCC grant will continue, you need to craft a strategy, drawing on the four pillars model described below, to determine where best to focus scarce time. The Pillars—Internal Support, Marketing and Outreach, Partnership Development, Resource Development—also provide a framework for thinking creatively about new opportunities that you may not have fully explored yet.
Because what you seek to sustain, and the costs to make that happen, vary among YCC programs, you will develop distinct strategies and sets of action steps for your YCC grant program. The sustainability of each program element will draw more heavily on some pillars than others. As you review the four pillars and develop a detailed, written plan, you and your team(s) should consider the questions posed below.
Internal Support: Carefully assess the support you have within both your own organization and the collaborative. If you do not have strong support internally, you will have difficulty finding and leveraging support from other sources in the community.
- What types of support do those inside our system provide?
- Are key players simply aware of the YCC program?
- Do they actively collaborate with us?
- Do they advocate for YCC and its activities?
- Do they provide resources? Could they provide more?
Marketing and Outreach: By actively promoting YCC goals, activities, and results to a variety of community networks, you help people and organizations understand what you are doing, why it is important, and why they should care. It is key to have everyone involved serve as a program ambassador and to produce materials that deliver a consistent core YCC message tailored to specific audiences.
- Do we actively share what we are doing and why?
- Do we tailor our message to the audience for whom it is intended?
- Do we cover the important points: What’s the problem we are addressing?
- What is our impact (short summary)?
- What is our track record?
- Why should anyone care? What is in it for them?
Partnership Development: Development of strong partnerships within your local region is a cornerstone of YCC grant programming. To further capitalize on the progress you have made, you will need to maintain relationships with partners who have been active contributors and widen the circle to include additional (new) collaborators, potential advocates, and sources of resources.
- How do we maintain existing partnerships?
- How can we leverage and tap our partners’ broader networks for additional support and activities?
- Who could be an advocate for our programming?
- What other organizations’ work is in alignment with our goals? And who do we know there?
Resource Development: Identifying alternate sources for grant funding is important, but so is tapping other, nonfinancial resources that can help the program run with lower expenses. Your approach to sustainability must be based on a realistic picture of the resources required for the overall program and for specific program elements.
- What is the actual cost—how many dollars does it cost to run the program and its specific elements?
- How can ‘in kind’ resources be a supplement in some cases?
- Are there general or skilled volunteer opportunities that can draw out local business people, educators, and others in the community for special projects or ongoing support?
- Are there other sources of funding available from government or foundations?
Planning for and taking strategic actions to sustain the grant’s services is not an all-or-nothing, do-or-die burden. Instead, by building the actions into the daily work and consciousness of all those involved, you add to the impact of the program. Small steps taken each day will result in benefits long after the grant funding is reduced.