by Kate Menzies
Organizations looking to
breathe life into new or expanding programs and services
often turn to grant funds for needed financial support.
That support, however, is typically erratic and temporary
in nature. In order for a program to stand the test of
time and truly impact rural communities, organizations
need to prepare for what will happen after grant funds
Jeanne Edevold Larson, Executive Director of the Northern
Dental Access Center in Bemidji, Minnesota, has had
plenty of experience in applying for grant funds and
knows the importance of creating a plan for a program's
“Very few funders are interested in long-term
funding,” said Larson. “Their first
thought is 'yeah this is great, but what are you going to
do once our funding ends?'”
Sustainability doesn't just happen. It's a proactive
Grantors seek to invest in organizations who create
programs that will have a lasting impact on communities.
They don't want their funds to be the only thing that
will keep a program afloat. That is why sustainability
plans are essential to grantors and grantees.
“You've always got to keep the end in
mind,” said Alana Knudson of the NORC Walsh
Center for Rural Health Analysis.
“Sustainability plans make your proposal that
much stronger and show the grantor that you are thinking
Larson advised organizations to consider grant funds as a
way to see what does or doesn't work without exhausting
an organization's own funds. It provides an initial
cushion so that organizations can see what ways to best
allocate their budgets once funding eventually ends.
Having a roadmap and a collective vision of what you want
to accomplish at the very beginning of a program is key
to ensuring its sustainability.
“Having a roadmap and a collective vision of
what you want to accomplish at the very beginning of a
program is key to ensuring its sustainability,”
said Jayne Berube of the Federal Office of Rural Health
Considerations for Sustainability Planning
“Staying mission focused is
important,” said Larson. “It's easy
to go after grant funding because it's there, but you
have to be mindful that it supports your organization's
purpose and objectives.”
Knudson also added that it is important to take into
account who your stakeholders are during this planning
time. Ask yourself, “Who are the people who are
committed to the program?”
Keeping these stakeholders engaged throughout the program
is vital, as these people can be a group of champions who
will help continue program efforts after funding is
Organizations should also be prepared to accommodate
changes in the healthcare environment and technology when
creating a plan for sustainability, according to Berube.
Staying mission focused is important. It's easy to go
after grant funding because it's there, but you have to
be mindful that it supports your organization's purpose
Funders appreciate it when organizations take the time to
develop a sustainable vision for the future. When looking
at sustainability plans, there are many factors grantors
“A grantor is going to be looking at issues
around a program's positioning, how it fits within the
grantor's and grantee's strategic visions, if it has the
capacity to carry out this vision, and if the right
leadership is in place,” said Beverly Tyler,
Director of the Community Health Systems Development Team
at the Georgia Health Policy Center.
Grant funders typically have constraints as to how money
can be spent. They want to invest in organizations with a
good track record and a solid financial base, as it is
often less risky.
“Grantors often juggle contradictory
ideas,” said Larson. “They want new
and innovative programs, yet embedded in best practices.
They look for proposals that can dance the dance in a way
that makes sense.”
Knudson added that funders look for levels of
accountability within organizations seeking funding and
what funding mechanism is being envisioned for post-grant
Community stakeholders also need to be taken into
“There has to be a need that is locally driven
in order for a program to be successful,” said
The Grant is Ending. Now What?
Having the sustainability plan in place and actively
working it during the grant period will position the
organization well to keep the program going. However,
Tyler notes that the plan needs to include steps to gauge
whether the program should be continued once the
grant funding ends.
“A critical assessment of the impact of your
work and what you've done needs to take place,”
Program costs, impact, and results all need to be
examined. Tyler mentioned that sometimes program
activities will need to be scaled down or adapted in
order to better sustain the program. At this point,
organizations need to ask themselves tough questions,
such as “What new or different partners do we
need to continue? Do we have the right partners/staffing
at the table? Can we afford this level of staffing? What
part of the budget can we get in kind?” to make
sure they continue on the right path.
Most of the time, according to Tyler, programs get
absorbed by their consortium members once funding ends.
Sustainability plans are a great way to aim for a
positive return on investment. No organization wants to
have a program disappear once grant funding ends.
Organizations need to be diligent in creating and
adapting a sustainability plan throughout the course of a
project to make sure programs are available to serve
rural communities for years to come.
“Sustainability doesn't just happen,”
said Knudson. “It's a proactive