Organizational Sustainability

What Is Organizational Sustainability?

From the Peer Learning Events, have emerged concepts on sustainability as understood and pursued by the participants1. Some refer to sustainability as viability. To others, it implies "being alive, and being able to "exist, thrive and serve its purpose over a non-immediate time frame." It implies "having enough, not worrying about tomorrow more than about the mission." Some further say sustainability refers to "the ability of an organization to be able to endure any challenges in order to achieve its mission and goals;" "the ability, in different situations, to provide services for the community according to the organization's mission."

What does it take to become sustainable? While all participants to the PLEs agree that finances are important, they also agree that it is "not just about endowment but permanence of the organization. "Financial resources are important, but it's not just about money." Rather, "the organization must be built on sound core values," and "it must be grounded on the needs of the people." Such grounding will help community foundations, in particular, to "tap local resources to meet local needs" and thereby promote its own sustainability. It is also about being "flexible, being able to expand when you have the opportunity or contract when you can no longer support the size of the organization." Above all, the organization must be "forward looking" as articulated in its vision, mission and goal statements. As one participant says, "it's not just about having resources, but about a state of mind—how you connect, how you use your resources."

Thus over and above financial health, the following are the essential elements of sustainability as seen by the PLE participants.

  • Clear purpose, vision, mission and goals
  • Existence of a strategic, long-term plan
  • Relevance to needs, goals and priorities of members and stakeholders
  • Effective leadership
  • Effective use of human resources (board, staff and volunteers)
  • Effective and appropriate structure
  • Vitality and effective mobilization of resources (concept of having enough)
  • Meaningful programs and activities for the community Support, involvement and empowerment of community stakeholders
  • Partnerships and collaboration
  • Effective budget
  • Endurance and flexibility
  • Use of technology and other cost reduction measures
  • Reduced operating costs

1WINGS Notes on Peer Learning Events on "Sustainability of Grantmaker Associations and Support Organizations in Africa and the Middle East, July 21 - 23, 2009, Cape Town, South Africa" and "Sustainability of Community Foundations and CF Support Organizations, October 7 to 9, 2009, San Antonio, Texas, USA".