Good practice resources
We have created a resource library with links to useful websites to support the sustainability of your projects and the outcomes for your beneficiaries.
Sustainability means different things for different projects, beneficiaries and organisations. Sometimes it’s about getting funding to continue running a project, but it can also mean:
• creating a lasting legacy
• the impact the project has on the wider community
• building organisational capacity and skills
• influencing changes in policy and practice
It’s important to think about the effect of the end of a project on beneficiaries by putting in place an exit strategy.
Click on the boxes below to expand.
Thinking and planning; capturing knowledge and demonstrating impact
It’s never too early to think about a project’s sustainability – developing partnerships, establishing wider influence, securing longer-term impacts for clients or obtaining new funding sources all take many months, if not years, to achieve. Organisations that can think about and discuss the more difficult choices they will be faced with in the future will be best placed to meet these challenges.
It’s good practice to start thinking about the sustainability of your project from the beginning. That way you can build activities in to the project that will make the continuation of your work more likely. There are a number of things you can do to help.
• having strong business plans
• working with staff/volunteers/trustees to develop business skills that use what you’ve learnt to improve your project
• building strong relationships with partners, communities and policy makers
• involving potential continuation funders at an early stage
• continuity of staff and volunteers working on project
• the development of several income streams
Involving beneficiaries, those most closely involved and the organisation’s trustees and leadership in delivering the project creates a stronger proposition. Make sure that everyone understands the plan, is kept up to date with progress and knows how they can contribute to its success.
Listen to your beneficiaries. Developing a voice for users helps organisations develop projects with a focus on long-term, sustainable change for individuals and communities. Evidence of positive feedback from beneficiaries and powerful case studies also help with communicating the success of a project to potential supporters and funders.
Identify risks and opportunities
Think carefully about what could undermine your sustainability plan and come up with creative and practical ideas to manage risk. Having a shared understanding of risk also helps to keep everyone in the organisation pulling in the same direction.
Be prepared to review your thinking and plan regularly to address changes in the external environment, new opportunities opening up, or unexpected results from your project.
Making it count – financial management
Employing people: A handbook for small firms accessible version
Health and Safety made simple
risk assessment and policy template
premises fact finder
Partnerships with other organisations – whether formal or informal – can extend reach, improve delivery, save money and change how sectors work together. But they can also cause extra work, organisational tensions and financial confusion.
Sustainable partnerships rely on:
● clarity about the purpose of the partnership, what it will deliver for each member, how it will operate and mutual respect for each partner’s contribution
● a commitment to work through difficult issues, being willing to constructively disagree and arriving at compromises
● clear, timely communications and decision making supported by robust, agreed systems to review progress and respond to changing circumstances.
Engaging with communities
Community involvement in your project can result in a strong volunteer base – providing a very affordable service – it may encourage community advocates to effectively campaign for continued funding; or it could help to strengthen delivery and inform future developments. Community engagement gives your organisation credibility in building relationships with other partners, such as funders or statutory authorities.
Influencing policy makers
Creating opportunities to bring key individuals into the project – for example, through participation in a steering or advisory group – can be a good way to convince policy makers of its value and may lead to further project funding or practice adopted elsewhere.
Capturing knowledge and demonstrating impact
● learn about what works
● demonstrate impact on beneficiaries to secure funding
● disseminate good practice
● build support, relationships and wider engagement through effective communications
● develop new ideas for service delivery
To secure follow on funding or to persuade other organisations to make changes in the way they work, you need the tools to raise awareness of your work and communicate its impact. These may include producing written reports, developing presentations, offering training days or workshops, running an awareness raising campaign through social media or a range of other activities.
Monitoring and learning
Plan your monitoring from the outset. Routine, systematic and efficient collection and recording of information about a project is useful to check progress and can support your sustainability plans. This will only make a difference if it is used actively.
Thinking about how best to monitor and manage your project can create opportunities to think more broadly about how to collect and manage outcomes data across the organisation. Also, the development of a particularly successful partnership can provide a template for others to use in the future.
Embedding expertise in the organisation
Project funding allows you to pilot new ways of working and develop new skills. You should make sure this expertise does not stay within the project but is shared more widely across the organisation. This might be achieved through informal methods, such as creating opportunities for other people in the organisation to work on the project first hand or having regular updates on all projects and what they are learning.
One key test is to consider whether or not the project could continue if one or more staff or volunteers were suddenly not available. A sustainable organisation will know enough about each project it is running to pick it up and keep going.
Sustainable funding is usually diversified funding
Developing a good mix of funding relies on thinking creatively about a range of funding opportunities but not overstretching the organisation or adopting approaches that are inappropriate. A good funding mix means working to secure funds from some or all of the following sources:
● grant funding from independent foundations and trusts
● grants and contracts from statutory bodies
● sub-contracts from large charities involved in delivering public services
● charging fees for charitable services
● sponsorship or in-kind support from private companies
● local fundraising activities
● donations or legacies from supporters
● income from trading activities.
Sustainable organisations give a lot of attention to developing their funding strategy and using it as a ‘live document’, which they regularly revisit, revise and amend.
Key pointers for success are:
Planning and management
Planning for future funding must start early in a project’s life. This will involve:
● thinking clearly about your long-term aspirations for the project and the outcomes you want it to achieve
● accurately analysing the likely costs both of delivering the project and of managing and supporting it well – including costs like rent, utilities, audit and management time
● identifying the types of funding that might be suitable for the project beyond the grant
● assessing your organisation’s skills, experience and capacity to deliver different funding schemes within the necessary timescale.
These decisions will determine where you decide to focus your fundraising effort and affect how you monitor the project, build relationships with potential supporters and funders, and all aspects of project development. The process of securing funds itself could take many months and even years – local authorities will decide on funding priorities well in advance of opening their funding rounds; foundations can take 6-10 months to come to a funding decision; and a newly developed trading activity could take a number of years to become profitable.
Successfully building a mix of funding requires awareness of new opportunities. Maintaining good information networks and being in strong relationships with other organisations, statutory authorities, partner organisations and communities will help you to be in the right position to move quickly as opportunities arise. Understand how your existing funders work, whether they are willing to consider continuation grants and what they will be looking for as evidence of the success of your current project.
Building organisational capabilities
Key pointers for success are:
Supporting staff and volunteers
One of the challenges of project based funding is keeping experienced staff and volunteers within the organisation after the funding ends, whether this is to continue with similar work or use their skills in other areas. Research shows that projects that lose staff, especially in their last year, are most at risk of not having sustainable impact.
A sustainability plan is one way to give staff and volunteers more confidence and maintain morale in uncertain times. Doing this shows that you are serious about trying to build on your work and securing the future employment of your staff. Well developed partnerships may also offer opportunities for staff and volunteers, keeping their expertise available to you even if they are no longer directly involved with it.
Model Financial Policy and Procedures
NCVO HR example policies-equal opportunities
NCVO HR example policies health and safety
Writing a Marketing Plan
SMART action plan template
NCVO writing a business plan
Final Checklist for Project Sustainability
✦ Create space to think and plan – and do it early
✦ Involve beneficiaries and other stakeholders
✦ Identify and manage opportunities and risks
✦ Build strong external relationships and partnerships
✦ Monitor, evaluate and communicate your project’s impact
✦ Work to develop a mix of funding sources
✦ Embed learning from the project in your organisation for the future
[Source: Thematic review – Project sustainability, Big Lottery Fund, August 2014]