Plan for Program Sustainability

Plan for Program Sustainability

step 10 graphic

Clearly, if your program was successful in getting the desired outcomes you identified at the outset, you want to continue doing it. The whole point of this work is to help families, so if your program is getting positive results, it is worth continuing in order to maintain the impact.

Overview of sustainability

Unfortunately, a reality is that even successful programs may not be continued due to changes in organizational priorities or the availability of funding. The goal of a sustainability plan is to maintain successful outcomes by planning ahead to deal with threats to continued success. It can also allow the necessary flexibility to take advantage of unexpected opportunities. Sustainability is an important and ongoing activity.

How to sustain a program?

Below are some common-sense strategies to consider that may assist with your sustainability plans:

  • Program financing: Diversify your funding streams as much as possible to protect your program from being vulnerable to budget cuts.
  • Program champions: Obtain an influential program advocate or champion to generate goodwill for the continuation of the program to help support sustainability.
  • Training: Train multiple staff in all roles, so that you are prepared in the event of staff turnover. Having a large group of trained staff also forms a constituency to support the program.
  • Program documentation: Make sure that all aspects of your program are documented, so that key knowledge does not leave the program in the event of staff turnover.
  • Institutional strength: Work to maintain the capacities from Step 5 (staff retention, fiscal, training of new staff, etc.).
  • Integration with existing programs/services: Educate staff throughout your community about your program, so that referring families to your program becomes standard operating procedure for other organizations in your community's system of care.
  • Fit within your community: Your program should demonstrate value over preexisting programs. This will enhance your potential for sustainability of the program.

Develop a sustainability plan

As in the other GTO steps, you may want to sit down with your community coalition and think through a simple plan for sustaining your program. Even though sustainability is a continuous process, making a plan that specifies what activities will be carried out and when you'll do them makes it much more likely that you'll follow through in this important area.

One possible approach would be looking at each of the GTO steps from the point of view of sustainability. For example, what sort of resources do you think you need to sustain your program? What are your goals and outcomes with regard to sustainability? For example, if you want to increase community awareness and support for your program by participating in community events, how will you find out what events are coming up, so that you can then develop a plan for scheduling and preparing for these events? Planning for grants may be similar. It is important to know what funds are available and when the deadlines are to ensure enough time to prepare and submit your application.

Some other ideas for helping you develop a sustainability plan:

  • Using the strategies and tips we've presented so far, decide which ones make sense for you and then brainstorm other creative ideas for building sustainability of your program.
  • Decide which strategies you'll use to sustain your program.
  • Decide who will be responsible for carrying out each of the strategies.
  • Share the development of your plan with your staff and volunteers. They may come up with some great, new ideas, and, certainly, involving them in sustainability planning will also increase their feelings of investment.
  • Create a reserve fund that can be used in the event of a temporary budget downturn.

Anything you do to generate fresh ideas and enthusiasm for your program and its sustainability is going to increase confidence and positive support for your work. If you are interested in learning more about sustainability, the GTO team has put together a Sustainability Toolkit with additional guidance just on this step (Johnson et al., 2009). The toolkit will guide you through nine questions that will help you to understand, assess, and strengthen the capacities needed to sustain an intervention as well as its infrastructure.

Townville Example 10-1. Townville Plans for Sustainability

The Townville community coalition began to plan for sustainability before funding for their program was exhausted. Using the positive results of their outcome evaluation, Townville coalition members prepared a presentation for potential funders on the results of the XYZ program. They also included information on the other, more rigorously designed studies that have been conducted on the XYZ program, to show that it works even under the strictest experimental conditions.

The team used this information to request funds from state policymakers. Given the positive results, state policymakers were convinced that this was an effective way to prevent hospitalizations, a very expensive occurrence, and that the program ultimately reduced child maltreatment. Policymakers decided to fund the project for another five years.

The Townville community coalition also established an ongoing sustainability working group, which will revisit each of the sustainability tips twice annually, using new data and information to update their sustainability plan.

Tip 10-1. Looking at the GTO Steps with an Eye Toward Sustainability

Each of the GTO steps provides a lens through which to assess different elements of sustainability. Here are some suggestions to guide your thinking on this important topic.

Getting started

Continue to build relationships. Whether you are starting something new or refining an existing program, relationships are always important to your success. Get buy-in all along the way from a diverse group of participants, including families themselves!

Step 1

Ensure that the selected program is based on real needs in the community. As needs change, assess whether and how your program can meet those changing needs.

Identify what sorts of resources you might need to sustain the success of the program.

Step 2

Choose goals and objectives that are meaningful and important to families and your other stakeholders. Working toward goals that your stakeholders care about will help you gather support from your stakeholders to sustain the program.

Step 3

Ground your efforts in what works. This will increase staff competence and confidence and help you deliver a strong program.

Step 4

Take time to continually assess fit. The more congruent your program is with existing needs, resources, and characteristics of families in your community, the easier it will be to gain support for it.

Step 5

Develop important capacities in an ongoing way. Training is important to ensure your staff and volunteers know how to deliver a program. Ongoing training ensures that new staff are always up-to-date on your program and operations.

Step 6

A good work plan tells your story. Developing and using a clear work plan optimizes your use of time, energy, and resources. It brings together all your research, assessments, goals, outcomes, and evaluation plans, which help you track your work, communicate what you are doing, and more easily attain the goals of an effectively implemented program.

Step 7

Process is important. Identifying strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement will increase your overall effectiveness, which helps build confidence in your program.

Step 8

Positive outcomes are crucial. The centerpiece of sustainability is achieving positive outcomes for families. Clearly demonstrate the effectiveness of what you've done and tie it to your vision, goals, and the needs in your community.

Involve the participating families. Collect stories, especially from those who have graduated from the program and feel it worked well for them.

Step 9

Revitalize your work. Looking for ways to continuously improve what you are doing keeps your work fresh and current and strengthens your overall program.

Step 10

Plan for sustainability. You won't know where you are going on this important topic if you do not describe your goals and figure out how you'll know when you get there.

Hannah, McCarthy, & Chinman, 2011.

Smiling parent and child

Summing Up

This concludes the step-by-step guide to developing, implementing, and evaluating a Getting To Outcomes Home Visiting Program. Congratulations and good luck! Your thoughtful efforts can play a major part in improving the lives of children, parents, families, caregivers, and communities.