How to ensure sustainability?

Upasana Joshi About Upasana Joshi

Upasana Joshi is a development professional with over six years of experience in project management, community mobilization, donor engagement and fundraising. She has worked with International Agencies like International Union for Conservation of Nature and World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Currently she is working in the capacity of an independent consultant and supporting grass root agencies in project development, project implementation and resource mobilization.


The term sustainability has gained significant popularity in policy-oriented research, business development and social sector over the last few decades. It is the most sorted feature to ensure success to a venture.

Sustainability, a word frequently used across several disciplines, has become part of our everyday lexis. Origin of the word Sustain dates back several centuries, from two latin words sus which means- up and tenere meaning to hold. The current use of the word implies something that continues for a long time.

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Looking at the perspective of donors and NGOs, sustainability of a project simply implies the continuation of project activities and sustenance of project outcomes after the initial/primary grant expires. Most donors are concerned about sustainability aspect of a project and often fund projects which have a well defined sustainability plan in place. It is a challenge for NGOs to ensure a steady flow of funds for executing their projects and programs. Integrating sustainability principles in their ongoing projects can be an effective way to ensure long term impact.

Understanding sustainability

Looking at sustainability from a NGO point of view, it means continuing to perform and deliver project benefits to the primary target group after the funding from a donor terminates. In other words, sustainability is to maintain and continue your efforts after the funding is over.

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One has to understand that sustainability requires long term planning to facilitate diverse donor engagement and for improving institutional capacity of the target population. Sustainability planning is an important step for nonprofits as it prepares an organization to deliver positive outcome in the absence of primary funding.

There are different aspects of sustainability that are to be considered while writing the sustainability plan for your organization. As a NGO you should think about Financial sustainability, Organizational stability and Programmatic sustainability of the organization. Before we discuss about the steps involved in writing the sustainability plan let us understand the types of sustainability:

  1. Financial sustainability: It refers to ensuring a steady flow of funds and generating revenue for maintaining and continuing the organizations work.
  2. Institutional Sustainability/Organizational: It refers to ensuring proper working of your organization and institutions that were developed as part of the project.
  3. Programmatic Sustainability: It means to continue the organizations projects and programme in the absence of donor support.

Steps to sustainability

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Before you start writing the sustainability plan, discuss with your project team about the various processes and mechanisms that can be utilized for ensuring sustainability. Along with discussions with your colleagues you should consider the following:

  • Long term vision: You should know where you see your organization after a period of 5 or 10 years. If you have thoroughly thought of how and what will you do in the long run, half your work is done. Once you know the long term vision of your NGO, you can easily draft the various things required to achieve it. With the use of data and facts, you can explain to the donor about your long term goal and the processes, resources required to ensure success.
  • Integrate sustainability in all your projects: It is always advisable to integrate sustainability aspects in your project right from the beginning. This would help you to develop partnerships and relations with relevant stakeholders at an early stage of project development. This would also ensure that once the primary funding terminates you have a strong support to continue your project.
  • Communication and Outreach: Develop a strong communication strategy so that your project results can be shared with a large audience. Well documented project results can help you in getting support from a range of stakeholders and donors. A well thought communication strategy can avoid last minute rush of donor search.
  • Involve key stakeholders: Another major step to ensure sustainability is the involvement and participation of key stakeholders in program development. As part of the project activities you can initiate multi-stakeholder dialogue workshops to involve relevant people in your project.
  • Diversify funding sources: The most important aspect of sustainability is to diversify your donor base and to develop long term partnerships with donors to support you in your endeavor. Do not just look at the traditional donor agencies but explore new opportunities as well.
  • Create inventory of resources: Create an inventory of all physical resources that your organization can keep after a project ends. Some devices and equipments purchased during a project can be used in future eg. Training modules, camera, recorder, furniture for a school etc. can be used even after the grant expires.
  • Use your donor database: You can enlist a few donors from your donor database who are likely to fund your project. Keep in touch with such agencies so that they are aware about your project.

Ways to ensure Sustainability

When developing the sustainability plan, make sure that you have invested time thinking about it and are not merely writing it because the donor has asked for it. Most donors look very carefully at the sustainability plan of your proposal, as this gives them an assurance that their fund will have a long term impact and will continue to provide benefits to the target community even after the grant expires.

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When writing this section providing answers to the following set of questions can help you draft the sustainability plan for your project:

How will you ensure financial sustainability?

Develop a financial plan outlining the various options available for expanding your resource stream. You may have to undertake proper research to understand about the various options that can be used to maintain a steady flow of funds. Also this will help you to understand your potential donors and their priority areas. Some of the options that can be used by you are:

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  • Sale of product: Some of the products that your organization produces can be sold in the market. This may not be a huge amount but will help you to continue your efforts.
  • Diversifying donors: Look at various options through which you can get dome funding, this includes from corporate houses, local institutions, individuals etc.
  • Service Fee: Once the funding comes to an end you can start charging a nominal fees from the target beneficiaries for the maintenance and functioning of your project.
  • Membership fees: you can charge annual fee from all your members, this may be a small amount but can help you in continuing some of the project activities.
  • Online Fundraising: Online fundraising can help you reach a wide audience and individuals who like your project can fund you.
  • In Kind donations: Do not just look at financial support from agencies as in-kind support can also help you in sustaining some of your project activities.

What are the ways to achieve Institutional and Organizational Sustainability?

  • Explore new opportunities: Keep a flexible approach while looking for new opportunities you may have to modify your priorities to adopt to changes.
  • Develop new partnerships: To develop a sustainable organization you should develop new partnerships. These partnerships will make you stable and will also help you in taking your mission ahead.
  • Boost existing relations: Along with investing time and energy on developing new partnerships it is equally important that you manage existing relations with donors, stakeholders and beneficiaries in a proper way.
  • Communication and Outreach: Have a strong communication strategy that can help you in showcasing your project results to a large audience. Have a monthly communication plan that can be used for updating your webpage, social media profile, sending donor mails etc.
  • Volunteer engagement: one of the strategies that many NGOs use to sustain their projects is through engaging volunteers for performing some activities. As volunteers do not take any salary you can use this human resource to continue your mission without spending money.

How to ensure Programmatic sustainability?

  • Community involvement: involving the community is the key to have long term impacts from any projects. Make sure that your project involves the community at various stages, this will give them ownership of the project and there are high chances that they may continue with some project aspects even after the project duration. As the entire process will be participatory the skills and knowledge gained by the present group of people, will be transferable and also replicable.
  • Institutionalize local groups: Local groups play a very important role in maintaining your program objectives. You can strengthen local institutions like SHGs, Van Panchayats, Weavers Group, Youth Group etc. and involve them in planning and implementation phase of your project.
  • Community advocacy: Sensitizing the community about the benefits of a particular project and then initiating a policy advocacy can also ensure sustainability in the long run.
  • Involving local government and departments: Involvement of local agencies and government will ensure improved access to the government initiatives in this direction. As these agencies are permanent, they will help in sustaining the project activities beyond the project duration.

The points mentioned above can be used by you while drafting your sustainability plan for your organization or while writing the sustainability section of a project proposal.

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