Sustainability is the ability of an organization to continue its mission or program far into the future. All projects have to end eventually, but the project impact should continue. Donors want to see how the project and its impact will outlive their direct involvement in the project.
A project or organization can be sustainable in three main categories: organizational, financial, and community sustainability.
Community sustainability is how the community carries out the project activities even after the NGO leaves.
Example: The project trains 50 new mothers on infant nutrition. After the training, these mothers will then share their knowledge with other mothers, children, and neighbors in their communities. In this way, the project will continue to reach an additional 200-500 indirect beneficiaries one year after official project activities are completed.
Financial sustainability is how the financial support required for the project or the organization will continue after the grant has ended.
Example: As part of the advocacy initiative, the Communications Team will organize an online newsletter and crowd-sourcing campaign. This campaign will also include an annual appeal to further support the project.
Organizational sustainability is how the NGO itself continues to function after the project.
Example: The program will us social media to publicize its research findings, and also help attract new volunteers to the organization.
Other Types of Sustainability
NGOs and projects come in all shapes and sizes. Thus, NGOs can be sustainable in many other areas beyond community, financial, and organizational sustainability. For certain types of NGOs, this can also include:
- Business sustainability: the project will generate financial gains or profits and continue to function on earned income. This may also be a cross-cutting theme in livelihood development-type projects.
- Environmental sustainability: the project uses resources in such a way that the needed resources will never disappear. This is only in rare cases a type of project sustainability. More often, environmental sustainability is a project theme or cross-cutting theme.
Regardless of the category, make it clear to the donor how the project impact will be sustained even after the grant is completed.