Importance of Sustainability Planning for Networks and Coalitions
As with most programming, sustainability of a network is a topic that should be discussed early and often
among key partners. It is for this reason that networks will benefit from developing a sustainability plan.
A sustainability plan is a roadmap for achieving long-term goals and documents strategies to continue
successful programs, activities, and partnerships. For more information, see Rural
Community Health Toolkit: Why Sustainability Plans Are Needed.
Having a written formal strategy that network members can follow has been found to be very important
for networks' survival once initial funding has run out. Success, though, requires commitment from
network members. According to a recent assessment of the Health Resources and Services Administration
Health Network Development Planning Grant program, directors of surviving networks reported a
critical feature to their sustainability was being proactive in developing sustainability strategies. It is
therefore recommended that networks begin thinking about sustainability as early as possible. Networks will
benefit from having well-conceived strategic,
business, and operations
plans that will inform whatever sustainability strategy or strategies the network chooses to pursue. Another
key factor to sustainability is building support with organizations that have both the interest and the
wherewithal to provide financial support and expertise.
As part of a network's sustainability plan, discussion should go beyond funding acquisition strategies; it
must also consider the internal and external dynamics and the environment in which the network is operating.
Some networks may find continued existence of their work unsustainable, for example, if they are unable to
affect the change they had intended, and it may make more sense to stop all network activities once initial
The Georgia Health Policy Center cites nine
elements that organizational entities like networks need to consider in order to position themselves
well for a sustainable future. These elements include:
Strategic Vision: Does the network have a clearly defined vision for what it would like to
achieve and is it shared by all members? How well do the network activities align with the network's
vision? (See more information about strategic
planning in Module 4)
Collaboration: Are all network members and partners involved in planning and implementation
of network activities, and are all of them cooperating?
Leadership: Is the network leadership successful at leveraging support and resources? How
well does leadership understand the relationship between short-term activities and long-term success?
How well does leadership uphold the network's shared vision?
Communication: How well does the network define perceptions of the network's successes? How
effective is information shared among both structured and informal channels of communication?
Evaluation and ROI: Does the network have the necessary data infrastructure to effectively
monitor and manage what is being implemented, as well as associated impact? Can the network point to
specific positive social, economic, and/or health benefits based on the results of its evaluation?
Capacity: Does the network have sufficient personnel with adequate skills, knowledge, and
experience to carry out the network's work?
Efficiency & Effectiveness: Is the network maximizing its available resources to
produce optimal results?
Relevance and Practicality: Is the network's approach based on a clear understanding of
what is needed and appropriate for the environment in which it operates?
Resource Diversification: Is the network prepared to utilize different sources of funding
to continue its work?
By going through a self-assessment process as part of the sustainability planning process, a network
will have a better sense for how well it is meeting a range of variables. Additionally, members and
stakeholders will have a better sense of where the network can improve as it pursues sustainability,
how ready a network is to pursue sustainability, and what network components and/or activities are
worth sustaining — if any.
The Dynamics of Sustainability: A
Primer for Rural Health Organization shared results from interviews with past FORHP grantees that
have navigated the many issues and conflicts associated with sustainability planning. Former grantees
identified three lessons that are important for future grantees to keep in mind as they plan for
program or collaboration that makes a measurable impact
This lesson speaks to the importance of evaluation and having positive outcomes (for example, changes
in health status) and not just outputs (for example, the number of pamphlets distributed or the
number of meetings attended). Networks rely on evidence of the impact of their work in order to
justify the importance of the network to fellow network members, stakeholders, and funders.
Get past the
belief that “more money will come when we need it”
Very rarely will a network have a funder show up unexpectedly and offer to fund the network and its
activities. Developing a sustainable path for a network requires significant time and effort towards
building key relationships, communicating the value of what is being accomplished, and ensuring that
sustainability strategies follow the network's mission and vision.
ownership for sustainability
Sustainability planning requires frequent engagement from all network members and key stakeholders.
Not only will this make it more likely to have buy-in from a plurality of network members, but a
collective perspective is more useful in maintaining a longer-term vision for the network.