Getting Started

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Before writing an actual sustainability plan, it’s essential for your organization to find its bearings. You need to ask yourself tough, critical questions to ascertain your organization’s purpose and where it stands in relation to the needs of the community you serve.

The Sustainability Planning Questions worksheet will guide you in the planning process.

There are a number of questions that should be answered when creating a sustainability plan. Your answers to these questions should serve to guide you throughout the planning process. To get started with your sustainability plan, download the Sustainability Planning Questions.

A consistent message and direction is essential.

What is the main purpose of our organization? What is our mission? What is our vision?

Unless your organization can clearly articulate its purpose, you may struggle to stay on point. Consistency in messaging and direction is essential. As Lincoln famously pointed out, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Don’t put yourself at risk of internal divisions that could pull the organization apart.

Remain aware of community needs to maximize impact.

What are the community’s needs? How well does our mission align with those needs?

To maximize your organization’s impact on the community and ensure your future sustainability, it’s essential to remain aware of the often dynamic nature of a community’s needs. If your organization’s mission falls too far out of alignment with those needs, you will lose the support you need to exist. If you do not have a clear idea of your community’s needs, consider facilitating a community asset mapping project in order to answer this question.

Facilitate a community asset mapping project to determine community needs.

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Define your purpose to maximize effectiveness.

What are we trying to accomplish by maintaining our programs or services?

An examination of the purpose for the programs or services you provide is important for several reasons. For one, it can help determine if your organization is making the most effective use of its available resources by asking how else those goals might be accomplished. Also, focusing on your goals can assist in taking an outcome-oriented approach to providing services; having concrete results to show to prospective donors is especially important given the shrinking pool of resources available to nonprofit organizations.

Assess supply and demand to identify gaps in services.

Do we fill a gap in services?

The rule of supply and demand doesn’t only apply to the for-profit world. No matter how great the need for a service, it’s possible for supply to outpace demand. Too much supply leads to a lower return on investment. Even though you aren’t "selling" a product to your clients, you need to "sell" yourself as an organization to prospective donors. If your "market" is becoming inundated with supply, this task becomes increasingly difficult, and you may need to reassess the service you provide.

Understand your organization’s relationship to nearby communities in order to engage volunteers.

How do we see ourselves, our role, and our relationship to the community we serve?

A good understanding of where your organization stands and its relationship to the communities you serve can assist you in activities such as engaging volunteers and can improve your general interactions with the community. The more you can paint a clear picture of how you see your organization serving the local communities, the better able you will be to attract the interest of volunteers and donors alike. Create a value statement that clearly aligns your mission and vision with the interests and needs of nearby communities.

Assess staffing needs to ensure adequate support.

How many and what kinds of people, with what skills, do we need to run our programs and services?

Assessing your staffing needs is crucial to ensure that you have adequate support without stretching your available resources too far. In doing so, you not only need to consider how many people you will need to run the program, but also the criteria in which you will select those individuals. Consider the key characteristics and skills that would be considered best fit within the organization. Are you looking for someone with a history of service in your field? Or are you looking for someone with direct experience in the cause you support? Will you want these individuals to be collaborative or autonomous? Outgoing or reserved? By considering questions such as these, you will be able to paint a clearer picture of your staffing needs.

Work with partners to enhance outreach efforts.

How should we make our best contribution to the social service provider network? What organizations should we collaborate or partner with directly in order to maximize the impact we have on the community?

Although you may provide several services to your community, it’s almost impossible to meet all of your clients’ needs or to identify every individual who could benefit from your services. Working with partners who offer complementary services enables you to better provide for your existing clientele while also enhancing your outreach efforts through the referral process. When considering who would make a good partner, simply think about your clientele and from what other services they might benefit.