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Taking Action to Sustain Your Program

We used to talk about sustainability planning. Today, we need to take action to sustain afterschool programs.

By building a recurring four-step action process—ASSESS, ANALYZE, STRATEGIZE, EXECUTE—into your program's regular management and strategy, you can develop and maintain a consistent mix of resources to assure its short-term and long-term success.

These steps intentionally align to key program management documents and processes common to most afterschool programs. Many programs are built around a mission statement or logic model. This model forms the basis of an implementation plan guiding what happens in the program on a day-to-day basis. Program leaders meet periodically to assess progress against the plan to determine what's working and not. Determining sustainability strategies that help drive continued program growth and impact is a natural final step.

Logic Model --> Implementation Plan --> Assessment --> Sustainability Strategy

The action steps build upon this management approach and should become a natural part of regular staff program management and strategy discussions already occurring.

  • ASSESS progress against your program goals and implementation plan.
  • ANALYZE qualitative and quantitative data to make decisions about what to sustain.
  • STRATEGIZE and create a resource development plan to fund activities you'll sustain.
  • EXECUTE the strategy. Meet regularly to assess progress.

These frameworks enable you to incorporate the steps into your program's management cycle:

ASSESS

"Assess" conversations set the stage for deeper conversation. During this step, leadership gathers and reviews program documents to help frame later decision-making. This stage also offers an opportunity for your team to complete a SWOT analysis or community asset map.

SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats): An effective way to frame a discussion about program or organizational health.

Asset map: Identifies school or community resources that can contribute to program strength or sustainability.

Action Step Goal: Develop understanding of how well the program serves its community.

Key Questions
How are we doing?
What has changed in our program and community since we last discussed sustainability?
Are the right people engaged in sustainability conversations?

Key Documents
Mission and logic model
Implementation plan
Grant applications and agreements
Performance reports

ANALYZE

Gather quantitative data (outcomes, outputs) and qualitative data (surveys, success stories) that describe program progress toward key goals, and completed milestones, since the last sustainability conversation. Discuss and analyze data significance you see with the sustainability or management committee. Ensure all sustainability conversation participants understand how each service and activity fulfills the program's contractual and grant obligations.

Action Step Goal: Determine the program activities to sustain, revise, and discontinue.

Key Questions
What needs to be sustained?
What activities should be added?
What resources do we have?
What resources do we need?

Key Documents
Qualitative and quantitative outcomes data (assessment scores, student surveys)
Budgets and annual financial reports (inventory revenue, expenditures)
Program and communitywide feedback
Theory of change and logic model

STRATEGIZE

Once the team reaches consensus regarding program activities that will and will not be sustained, prioritize how you'll sustain them. Consider these sustainability strategies:

  1. Transfer or cut costs.
  2. Generate revenue through grants and contracts or through related or unrelated business activities.
  3. Leverage existing and build new partnerships.

Action Step Goal: Prioritize strategies to secure the resources needed to sustain program activities, short-term and long-term.

Key Questions
How can we best use our resource surpluses?
How will we close our resource gaps?
What balance of revenue generation, cost-cutting and leveraging partnerships is the right mix of sustainable funding for our program?

Key Documents
Budget documents and attendance data
Memoranda of understanding with partners
Research/catalog all prospective grant opportunities (and those about to expire)
Prospective partner list

EXECUTE

Put plan into action! Assign specific stakeholders responsibility for executing sustainability strategies, then set consistent check-in points to review progress toward executing the plan.

Action Step Goal: Implement sustainability strategies and track implementation progress.

Key Questions
What are our sustainability "best bet" strategies?
Which strategies should we prioritize? Why?
Who will take the lead on implementing the strategies?
How will we track and share our success?

Key Documents
Budget narrative and corresponding line-item budget
Revenue generation pipeline
Organizational chart
Monitoring database for record of contact with partners and funders
Continuous improvement framework

Afterschool programs do not have the luxury of considering sustainability planning a process or conversation that happens once every two or three years. Embedding the four sustainability steps into existing, regular management conversations immeasurably increases the likelihood of keeping your program open and thriving.

Written by Shawn Stelow Griffin, Senior Director, Collaborative Communications Group.

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