How is Sustainability Different from Evaluation?
Evaluation is the process of determining the worth, merit and effectiveness of a program or product based on relevant standards that are typically set by the organization. Sustainability is how you will maintain your organization for the long term. This may be through established fees, regular donors and endowments. While you may use the data you collect to inform donors, fulfill grant requirements and share with other stakeholders, it is only one part of you sustainability plan.
Managers need to ask and answer key questions about how their staff performs, as a group, and how well managerial systems support their work. Identify strengths and weaknesses in the group you work with, and act to increase your organization's ability to face challenges such as limited funding or inability to maintain long-term sustainability.
For an organization or program to survive and thrive over time all of the following components must be in place:
- Identity: In addition to brand, your organization should have an identity that is define through your mission and values.
- Strategic Plan: Your organization should have a plan for the foreseeable future. Over the course of the next five years what areas, specific to your mission, will you focus on, what gaps will your program fill, how will you adapt to changes in your community, the economy, etc.
- Evaluation Plan: Your plan for the immediate future, your objectives, activities and timelines for programs currently being implemented.
- Budget: Your budget is your fiscal plan and should reflect your expected revenues and expenses. A good fiscal plan will focus on the current budget as well as reflect a long range fundraising plan that supports the activities outlined in your strategic plan as well as a diversity of income streams and sources
- Personnel Plans: Your program or organization should have a plan for cultivating and engaging your board of directors, staff and volunteers. Sustainable organizations invest in the people who invest in the organization. Consider long term plans for rewarding initiative and creating a culture that is transparent and flexible.
2. Sustainability within the Community
Sustainability is not just about money and planning. It is also about continuing to fill an indentified need in your community. It will be necessary to periodically reexamine your program and the needs of your community.
As your programs become more established, you will become more recognizable in your community. Look for opportunities where there is mutual benefit to partner with new segments of your community. How can the community rally behind your cause? Keep in mind that people support what they help create. Are there ways to engage more and more people in what you do? Can you get people in your community to care about your success? One of the keys to sustaining as an organization is having a constituency who believes in your work and is there to support you.
3. Development and Understanding of Policies
- Internal policies should reflect who you are as an organization. For example, if working at a cancer organization reflect that in your choices of healthcare plans, flexible time off, utilizing non-smoking hotels for travel, etc.
External and Health Policies
- Having a process in place to identify and review health policies and how they may influence your constituent base is important. For example, tracking of the health policies in Congress that influence health insurance rules and regulations and developing positions and strategies specific to those policies.
4. Measuring Sustainability
An evaluation plan allows you to plan and implement your organizational objectives. Evaluation goes hand and hand with sustainability. Look to your evaluation results to see where you are being successful and where there is room for growth. These answers will help you plan to maintain your organization for the long term. By determining whether programs are reasonable, feasible, or measurable you are assessing your organization's sustainability.
Is your sustainability goal specific to your organization, new initiatives, ongoing projects or all of these? While you do not need to choose program or organizational sustainability you need to understand the differences in how they may be measured. One is just as important as the other.
You will need to include, in your planning process via your evaluation plan, what your short-term and long-term goals are for sustainability. These goals and your measurements can be developed with input from your board, your constituents and your staff.
An example using programmatic sustainability indicators is:
The tobacco control program that you developed and pilot tested this year:
- Had x number of participants compared with your goal of x.
- Saw prolonged smoking cessation in x% of participants.
- Raised awareness nationally and locally.
- Was selected for additional funding by a new grantor.
An example using organizational sustainability indicators is:
Your organization started with a small grant of $10,000 to pilot a program and recently received ongoing funding for a five year project for $200,000 to continue those program activities.
- You have successfully developed your board, with the addition of x number of experts in x,y, and z program specific fields.
- Your program operates within budget reporting $x spent, $y raised, and $z saved through in-kind donations.
- You have increased the number of funding sources from x to y.
Council on Foundations is to provide the opportunity, leadership and tools needed by philanthropic organizations to expand, enhance and sustain their ability to advance the common good. www.cof.org