To sustain their work and impact, organisations need to be competent with five key capabilities:
They are introduced here alongside some additional resources we find helpful. The Lasting Difference toolkit presents fuller information on the principles and practices involved. Download it here.
Who does your work belong to? Sustain your work by sharing it.
Sustainable organisations are clear about why they should involve people and partners in their work. They might want to share power and control, generate new ideas, identify unmet need, or simply make sure they are still relevant.
The Lasting Difference toolkit helps you to make your involvement more rigorous, more representative and more engaging.
Money follows good work, not the other way around.
Most people think about sustainability in the context of money. Afterall, if organisations didn’t need money, sustainability wouldn’t be so much of an issue. But it’s not sustainable to carry on earning and spending, without taking time to think about what you’re trying to achieve.
The Lasting Difference helps you to take an analytical, holistic and strategic approach to Income Generation.
These are some of the approaches and tools we find useful:
- Income Generation Strategy template – Use our free template to create well-structured strategies for income generation. It can also be used for marketing, business development and communication plans.
- Institute of Fundraising – Comprehensive coverage to fundraising policy, resources, events and networks.
- The Charity Social Media Toolkit – From the basics of starting out on social media to using it for effective fundraising.
- OSCR (the Scottish Charity Regulator) produce a helpful guide for charities who want to create or update their reserves policy.
- Funds Online is a database with over 8,000 funders with the potential to give away billions of pounds overall to organisations and individuals.
We are all creative. But we need time, trust and permission to play. And, at times, to fail!
Radical new ideas and breakthroughs are rare. Most innovation is about incremental improvement in what is already there. As Carl Sagan said,
‘If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe’.
People are motivated to make a positive difference and will do so given the resources and space. So, agree the outcomes and vision for innovation –
and then get out of people’s way! Pilot ideas, do small tests of change and be prepared to fail fast and learn.
It is also improtant to manage capacity. Recognise if you or your team are overloaded and deal with this before generating more ideas. Give yourself and others the time and space to think, read, reflect, ponder and recharge. Finally, we suggest screening new ideas against your core purpose, aims, values and capacity. Here are some templates that other organisations have kindly shared.
This screening matrix, shared by Grampian Opportunities, contains helpful criteria for appraising new ideas against existing resources and priorities.
This project planning tool, provided by Deanna Wolf (MInstF), helps assess the sustainability of a project at the funding application stage.
This document, kindly shared by Carr Gomm, uses a risk assessment approach to explore the feasibility of development opportunities.
Sustainability ≠ sustained
When we talk about sustaining something we’re not talking about keeping it going just as it is. Things change. Organisations and systems change as they evolve through different stages of their lifecycles. Sustainability requires us to evolve.
However, this also comes with risks. Because funding pays for activity and outcomes, non-profits that want to diversify income (that’ll be everyone then!) have to diversify their activities or outcomes. This can lead to them becoming pulled out of shape – or losing their way altogether.
Sustainable organisations develop criteria for assessing new opportunities, helping them to be clear on what to say yes – and no – to. The examples above do just that.
Download the Lasting Difference to find out more about what we call the Octopus Paradox and how to manage it. Or buy the book to find out how funders, boards, managers, operational teams and policy makers can all tame the octopus.
What’s your story? What messages are you sending?
Being able to evidence the need for your work, and the difference it makes, are fundamental to sustainability. Sustainability requires constant learning about what works – and what doesn’t.
Sustainability isn’t about keeping projects and activities going for their own sake. But when services and jobs are at stake, there can be so much pressure to keep things going that longer-term sustainability gets forgotten. We end up chasing money, which pulls us out of shape and away from our core purpose and values – which makes things less sustainable.
Focusing on making a lasting difference right from the start improves sustainability in lots of ways.
- Once the need for a piece of work is clearly understood, activities and resources are focused on where they can be most effective. There are baselines to measure progress against.
- Evaluation isn’t left until the end, it’s built into everyday practice – projects have clear outcomes to work towards, and systems are in place to measure them.
- Evidencing your impact shares learning and builds trust with the people you serve, your colleagues, managers and boards, and your funders, donors and commissioners.
- Having credible evidence can also help to influence organisational, local or national policy. Read the full-length book Making a Lasting Difference to find out more about using evidence to inform policy and help sustain organisations and impact.
The problem with measuring impact therefore isn’t about why it matters. It isn’t even about how to do it: there are lots of tools and frameworks available. It just takes time to think about how to make them work for you. Download the free toolkit for practical suggestions about why, when and how to do this.
Whose permission do you need to do the right thing?
This website and the Lasting Difference toolkit give you lots of ideas and practical tools to help you plan for sustainability.
To get you started, read the case studies about how other organisations have implemented the Lasting Difference.