What is the sustainability plan for the project? How is the project sustainable? How will the project results be sustained after the grant is gone? These questions may be worded differently, but they have the same basic meaning and are commonly asked by donors to organizations seeking funds.
Sustainability is the ability of an organization to continue a mission or a program indefinitely. All projects have a limited time duration, and donor agencies want to know if the project and its effects will outlive their direct involvement in the project.
There are different ways an organization can be sustainable: organizational sustainability, financial sustainability and community sustainability.
- Community sustainability is how the community will continue to carry out the project activities when there is no grant available.
- Financial sustainability has to do with the financial support required for the project or the organization after the grant has ended.
- Organizational sustainability is how the organization will continue to be sustained in absence of donor support.
When developing the sustainability plan, it is important to mention how the community or the primary beneficiaries of the project will be participating in the implementation process.
A community is an important project stakeholder and its involvement is ensured from day one of the project. By explaining their involvement in the plan, the donor can clearly see that sustainability is built into the core of the project.
The organization will give the impression to the community that it is the owner of the project and it has to continue implementing it even after the support has been withdrawn.
The next part of the plan is to guarantee financial sustainability. In simple terms, where will the money for activities come from when the donor’s support has ended? For this, an organization’s project strategy should contain some relevant details.
For example, it might explain how the project is building community-based mechanisms such as a cooperative or a community association and the project costs would be covered from member contributions. This is an important element of project sustainability.
In some cases, the donor also wants to know how the organization, not just the project will be sustained after withdrawal of the grant.
Here, mention that the organization has its own fundraising skills, which will be applied as a continuous process to raise funds from other funding agencies.
Note that sustainability can also refer to environmental sustainability, which refers to ensuring natural resources will be available for future generations in the long-term. Environmental sustainability is a common donor thematic priority, but this is usually not what donors are referring to when asking if the project or the NGO is sustainable.
Most project funding is thematically or geographically allocated; meaning that the donor is interested in certain countries or certain themes and awards grants based on the projects which best match those specific interests. However, donors often also see projects that have a wider effect as a positive indicator.
Crosscutting themes are generally secondary themes or areas that can be easily integrated into a project without losing focus on the main goal. While it generally is a good idea to focus projects around one central theme, it is very common for projects to have potential to make an impact in other areas as well.
If a project can be designed to maximize these related or cross-cutting themes, it is important to explain them, even if they are not a priority.
These themes can vary between types of projects and types of donors. Common easily integrated crosscutting themes include promoting gender equality, environmental sustainability, improved governance, livelihood development and poverty reduction.
For example, an NGO may propose a project to bring electricity to a rural village. In this case, the overall goal of the project might be to improve standards of living in rural areas. However, the project may also easily be designed to install solar panels and ensure women and girls receive equal access to the benefits.
In this case, the crosscutting themes of environment and gender have been integrated into the project. Additionally, the NGO could train local community members on how to build and maintain the solar panels, which could promote vocational training and job growth.