Program Sustainability

What is program sustainability?

Many non-profit organizations need to document improved outcomes and demonstrate the impact of interventions in order to show that a particular program is a good investment. This highlights the importance of sustainability planning.

There are many complementary definitions of sustainability. The Center for Civic Partnerships describes sustainability as the continuation of community health or quality of benefits over time.48 The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines sustainability as maintaining and continuing program services after a funding period is over and ensuring that the organization has become a permanent part of community resources.49 Finally, the CDC 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.”50 More formally, “sustainability capacity [is] the existence of structures and processes that allow a program to leverage resources to effectively implement and maintain evidence-based policies and activities.”51

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What tools exist to help my CHWP plan for program sustainability?

CDC’s A Sustainability Planning Guide for Healthy Communities emphasizes the importance of initial buy-in, engagement, funding, and planning for sustainability. This guide provides tools and resources to be used as a stepwise approach to support the sustainability of programs and policies that have been implemented in communities. Additionally, the Program Sustainability Assessment Tool (PSAT) is a 40-item self-assessment tool that programs or partners can utilize to evaluate program sustainability. This self-assessment tool offers suggestions for improvements in eight domains.

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What program sustainability domains are appropriate for CHWPs to consider?

The Program Sustainability Assessment Tool is based on a framework of eight organizational and contextual domains that can help build the capacity for maintaining your program.52 These domains offer areas that your program can evaluate. In Figure 4, we offer definitions for each PSAT domain and examples of activities that can help your program achieve sustainability planning. For additional examples of activities, visit the Plan section of the PSAT. Creating a sustainability plan requires five elements: developing a sustainability goal, developing action steps, identifying and enlisting key partners, identifying resources, and developing milestones.

Figure 4: Sustainability Domains and Suggested Activities for Building Them

Environmental Support: A work climate where program champions can secure resources and gather backing and approval from leadership, partners, and the public.

  • Conduct an analysis of involved parties and decide who needs to be included to make your program successful and sustainable.
  • Identify and include decision makers.
  • Develop talking points and a specific “ask” for each involved party.

Funding Stability: An approach to identify and develop consistent funding sources for your program in the long term. This includes building a diverse portfolio of relevant state, federal, and private resources.

  • Cultivate your current funding and sustainability source by engaging in discussions that relate your program’s success and effectiveness.
  • Develop an adaptable funding plan, with short- and long-term goals and diverse funding sources, including federal, state, local, and foundation grants.
  • Explore new funding options and marketing and branding strategies.
  • Identify potential entrepreneurial activities for your program.

Partnerships: Goal-oriented relationships with other organizations, leadership, or membership-based groups that can directly impact program success and sustainability.

  • Conduct a partner analysis by assessing the different levels of impact, investment, involvement, and commitment of your partners, including community organizations, leaders, and members.
  • Develop plans to foster current partnerships and develop new ones to ensure long term viability.
  • Maintain regular bidirectional communication and engagement with your partners and other involved parties.

Organizational Capacity: The degree to which you have the internal support, knowledge, experience, and financial and physical resources needed to effectively manage your program.

  • Assess your program’s mission and goals and ensure they align with that of your parent organization.
  • Identify and leverage existing organizational resources to support your program, including human and intellectual capital, physical space, and financial resources.
  • Identify ways for staff to occupy multiple roles within the organization.
  • Ensure and maintain ongoing core staff with appropriate training and developmental opportunities.

Program Evaluation: The on-going process by which the value of a program’s inputs and outputs are examined. This includes understanding leadership and staff support and resources, as well as the processes and outcomes that reinforce the mission of the program.

  • Assess your organization’s and program’s readiness for evaluation.
  • Identify staff to collect, analyze data, and report findings.
  • Understand your program’s ability to adjust processes according to evaluation results.
  • Regularly review process and outcome data and implement new plans to adjust accordingly.
  • Review and share your evaluation with involved parties.

Program Adaptation: The process of using the scientific literature and your evaluation data to maintain program effectiveness and meet the needs of participants and involved parties.

  • Periodically review the scientific evidence base and adapt your program to new updates.
  • Proactively adapt your program to eliminate or modify ineffective components identified by your evaluation.
  • Communicate regularly with staff, partners, and your program’s participants.

Communications: The activities by which you share your program’s objectives, accomplishments, and strategies both internally with staff and leadership and externally with other parties of interest, program participants, media, and the public.

  • Dedicate staff to be in charge of internal and external communications,
  • Develop a communications plan for all audiences,
  • Develop a marketing plan for external partners that conveys goals, successes, and the impact of the program

Strategic Planning: An organizational or program activity that helps to develop priorities, identify resources, and harmonizes work towards common goals and objectives.

  • Develop a transparent strategic plan that you can share both internally and externally.
  • Conduct strategy developed in concert with larger organizational and partner foci.
  • Include clear goals and objectives that will help staff and involved parties understand the purpose of your program.
  • Include funding and sustainability strategies and propose roles and responsibilities for all involved parties.

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