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How do you show sustainability in a grant proposal?

It's near the end of the quarter, and if you are like us, you are swimming in grant applications. One question that always used to stump me was about grant sustainability. Funders ask this a few ways. They may ask:

  1. How your organization sustains the program.

  2. What will you do to keep the program going after the grant?

  3. They may ask about your organization's other supporters or sources of funding.

The answer seemed simple to me and many others: we would keep asking for grants. You may even say it's unrealistic that a nonprofit could be self-sustaining. Neither answer is correct. Let me tell you why.

Saying you will keep grant-seeking is wrong when you do not provide details about your plans. For example, the funder would benefit from knowing how many other grants you plan to pursue and from whom.

Saying a nonprofit cannot be self-sustaining is wrong because that is untrue. After writing and reviewing hundreds of grants, I can attest that many nonprofits can sustain their programs with very little or infrequent grant-seeking. Our article on sustainability plans for nonprofit programs shows you how.

So now that we know how not to answer this question, let's talk about what you should say in your response.

Sustainability Answer Part #1: Current Resources and Strategy

First, I address the question head-on. I explain the organization's various revenue sources and financial solvency.

Sample Language: Better Health Recovery Center has served Eastern Oregon for nearly twenty-five years. Our organization implements a $2.5 M budget, representing a 15% increase over the past two years. Our programs sustain with government (25%), foundation (15%), and corporate (10%) grants, individual donations (40%), and earned revenue (10%). We have robust cash reserves.

Sustainability Answer Part #2: Current Support

Next, I talk about the organization's sources of support, including the number of donors, volunteers, and partners.

Sample Language: Better Health Recovery Center attributes its success to its strong ties to the community. We have 20 regular volunteers, including past participants, that contribute in all areas of our work and drive our programming and vision. We have a dedicated base of supporters. More than 500 people subscribe to our monthly newsletter, and we have 100 individual donors. Every person on our Board of Directors also financially contributes to Better Health's programming. Finally, our long-standing relationships with a network of 30 local, government, business, and nonprofit partners extend our reach and impact.

Sustainability Answer Part #3: Benefits and Impact

Finally, I dive into the organization's impact and how they support its case for funding with data.

Sample Language: The consistent growth in Better Health Recovery Center's resources and people served each year is a testament that our programs are impactful and are here to stay. For example, last year, twenty people who completed our Employment program gained full-time employment with an average hourly wage of $17.00, far above our state's required salary of $10.00 per hour. Earning a livable wage allows our participants to gain self-sufficiency and contribute more to their homes, loved ones, and neighborhoods. In addition, as our organization continues to track and share programmatic outcomes, we increase support and giving.

Putting it all together

Answering the sustainability grant question is multi-layered. It's about more than bringing money in; it's your strategic vision for funding your program and how you plan to implement that vision. Providing answers on 1) current resources, 2) current support, and 3) impact and outcomes leads to solid and convincing sustainability.

Sustainability is one of many questions SGR has gotten good at answering. We hope you find our samples helpful. If you want someone to take this off your plate and are a healthcare or public health organization serving the United States, consider working with us. Using our “Get Funded Framework,” you will never have to worry about your planning, competitive edge, or missing a deadline. Click here to learn more about Sidnae Global Research's Grant Application Package development process.

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