• Rachel Niemczyk

6 Ways to Improve Program Sustainability


Image by Mary Pahlke from Pixabay

As a grant writer, I find the program sustainability section of grants to be highly misunderstood by nonprofits. Most believe emphasizing their lack of funding will help them secure the grant - and I completely understand why! It seems logical that a program without additional funding should be awarded grant money over programs that do have additional funds. After all, without grant funding this program will cease to exist, whereas the other program can continue on.


Unfortunately, I also know this is far from the reality of it. Because while nonprofits see this section from the standpoint of their need, funders see it from the standpoint of an investor.


Funders make granting decisions based on how sound of an investment your nonprofit and your nonprofit’s program is. For them, grant funds should only compromise 20% - 40% of your program budget. Enough to complete the program, but not enough to run the entire thing. If you lack other sources of income and can’t sustain the program beyond the grant funding, funding your program would be a risky investment for them. And since they won’t see a return on their investment if your program closes, they will most likely choose to not fund your program.


How do you get around this? The solution is to establish sources of funding (other than grants) that can sustain your program. Once these funding sources are established your program should be able to run without grants, and grant funding received can be used to expand it, implement changes, or fund smaller aspects that aren’t necessary for the program to operate.


Now, there are numerous ways to fundraise and improve program sustainability. Below are 6 potential fundraising sources to get you started - they are by no means exhaustive so please feel free to modify them or use them as inspiration for another fundraising activity!

1. Tricky Trays / Raffles. A classic fundraising activity! Ask your local community to consider donating items or services that can be raffled off to raise funds for a cause. It’s a great way to bring the community together, have fun, and enjoy a yearly fundraising activity that can be included as program income. (Have trouble motivating people to donate to your raffle? Remind business owners that donating to an auction is a great advertising opportunity - especially if people attending come from different areas than they currently service. You can also incentivize individual donations by offering a free seat/ticket to the raffle after donating items equaling a specific monetary amount.)

2. Program Fees. Program fees are a great way to not only offset costs, but show potential funders you have a steady, reliable source of income. Place program fees towards operational costs (which are harder to receive grants for) so grant funds can go towards new equipment, supplies, etc. (which funders are more inclined to support).

3. In-kind Donations. Lots of nonprofits forget these exist! If you need supplies for a program, look up the company that makes them and reach out to them. They may be willing to donate supplies or give significant discounts that offset the cost needed for your program. If you receive these, make sure to show the full/original price of the supplies in your program budget - this will ensure the budget accurately reflects the cost of the program.

4. Crowdfunding. While grants can come with stipulations against continual funding, individual donors don’t. Develop a strong base of individual donors who believe in your program, and they will most likely be willing to donate every year to keep your program running. They may only be able to donate a small amount of money, but a few dollars from several hundred people can quickly add up to cover program expenses. Just make sure you choose the crowdfunding platform that best suits your and your target audience’s needs.


5. Major Gifts. On the opposite side of the spectrum of crowdfunding is building relationships with individuals that have plenty of disposable income and are interested in the cause you’re championing. They may be willing to donate major gifts that equal or surpass grant funds. How do you find these people? Ideally, your board members will know some of them - or can refer you to a person who does - so you can reach out. However, if your board doesn’t have these connections yet or isn’t working in this capacity, try using Reference USA.


6. Sponsorships. Last but not least, sponsorships are great sources of income to consider! What companies have missions that align with your own? Are they vested in STEM? Environmental sustainability? Health conscious? Find them and consider asking them to sponsor a program/event of yours - possibly even a fundraising event of yours. (If you're a loyal customer of theirs be sure to bring that up in the conversation. How many years you’ve bought from them, what you’re trying to do, and the amount of press the program will receive are all important details to sway them to towards giving. :D)


Do you have other tried and true fundraising activities you implement to improve program sustainability? Share them in the comments below so we can all learn from each other!


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Thanks for reading, and I'll see you next week with another article!

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