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Sustaining grant-funded programs: What can be done?

Sustainability can be nurtured with the right approaches.
Don Wheeler

A recent workshop at the International Development Partnerships Forum reinforced the need to make sustainability a top priority for grant-supported projects throughout the world. Four guiding principles were found to be instrumental and, while the workshop context was an international one, three of the four principles are applicable in virtually any setting.

  1. Partner with the right people. Sustaining externally-funded activities beyond the end of their funding cycles involves identifying partners with synergistic mandates, missions and incentives for line managers. High-impact partnerships can provide unique and meaningful opportunities for grantees - and their partners - to institutionalize grant-funded activities.
  2. Build organizational capacity. Any organization hoping to sustain its impact over the long term must devote resources to capacity building as an integral part of its implementation strategy. This accomplishes two things: Not only does it build capacity to sustain specific, externally-funded activities, it also enhances capacity generally - thus enabling organizations to play expanded roles in their communities.
  3. Encourage innovative approaches. Funding sources should do everything possible to help their partners to think outside of the box when devising sustainability strategies. This includes establishing mutually-beneficial linkages with other like-minded organizations and leveraging the private sector and its incentives whenever appropriate synergies are present.

When adopted in tandem with appropriate resource development strategies, these three principles can often spell the difference between a grant-funded program that simply disappears when the money goes away and one that keeps on giving for years to come.