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Rural Health Information Hub

Planning for Sustainability of Your Community Health Program

A sustainability plan is used to identify the aspects of a program that will continue over time. For example, a sustainability plan may focus on continuing a program's activities, partnerships, or outcomes. Additionally, a program may decide to continue some, but not all, of the original program components. Rural community health programs will have different visions for sustainability, and therefore different types of sustainability actions may be appropriate, such as:

  • Identifying financially sustainable models
  • Securing resources from community partners
  • Using evaluation results to adjust program size or scope to fit available resources, such as scaling back some activities

Additionally, programs should create a continuity plan that describes how the program is conducted and lists important resources and information. A continuity plan ensures important procedures and information are documented and saved in case of staff turnover. A continuity plan can also help establish what is necessary to maintain a program if it is necessary to change different aspects of the program.

A sustainability plan is a roadmap for achieving long-term goals. It documents strategies to continue successful programs, activities, and partnerships. The Georgia Health Policy Center cites nine elements to consider as part of the sustainability planning process for partnerships.

For sustainability planning considerations for specific types of programs, see:

Resources to Learn More

Bringing the Future into Focus: A Step-by-Step Sustainability Planning Workbook
Guides users through four steps to produce a sustainability plan. Emphasis is given to financial considerations and funding strategies to sustain a program after initial program funding ends.
Organization(s): Georgia Health Policy Center, Community Health Systems Development
Date: 2011

Community Health Partnerships: Tools and Information for Development and Support
Highlights general principles for developing business and community partnerships to promote on-going collaboration, share goals, and strengthen the health resources available in a community.
Organization(s): National Business Coalition on Health, Community Coalitions Health Institute

The Community Tool Box: Chapter 42 - Section 1. Developing a Plan for Financial Sustainability
Offers guidance, tools and examples for developing a financial sustainability plan, and includes tips on grant writing.
Organization(s): University of Kansas Work Group for Community Health and Development

The Community Tool Box: Toolkit 16. Sustaining the Work or Initiative
Outlines topics and questions to consider when developing sustainability plans, and includes examples of programs for guidance.
Organization(s): University of Kansas Work Group for Community Health and Development

The DNA of Program Sustainability: Findings from a Study of Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Grantees
Reports on a study of Rural Health Care Services Outreach Program grantees to better understand the factors related to long-term sustainability and the impact of their programs. Discusses leadership, collaboration, alignment between need and demand, data use, and policy expertise as contributors to sustainability for rural programs.
Organization(s): Georgia Health Policy Center
Date: 7/2020

Program Sustainability Assessment Tool
Provides information on how organizations and programs can improve capacity for sustainability and maintain programming. Includes tips, examples, and planning templates for developing a sustainability action plan, and an online tool for rating sustainability programs.
Organization(s): Center for Public Health Systems Science, Washington University in St. Louis

Sample Sustainability Action Plan
Offers a sample plan describing the action steps to take during the first year of implementation.
Author(s): Voll, M.
Organization(s): Consulting Services for Community Solutions
Date: 10/2021

A Sustainability Planning Guide for Healthy Communities
Synthesizes science- and practice-based evidence to assist public health officials and others in their efforts to develop, implement, and evaluate a sustainable plan supporting healthy living and networks for sustainable change. Includes lessons learned from communities across the U.S. who received CDC funding to implement policy, systems, and environmental change strategies.
Organization(s): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Healthy Communities Program

Sustainability Planning Tools
Provides links to resources to help plan sustainable programs in rural communities. Highlights long-term approaches for programs.
Organization(s): Georgia Health Policy Center