What Do Grantmakers Mean When They Ask You to Describe “Program Sustainability After the Grant”?

What Do Grantmakers Mean When They Ask You to Describe “Program Sustainability After the Grant”?

What do Grantmakers Mean When They Ask You to Describe “Program Sustainability After the Grant”?

Grantmakers and donors are asking you how you will keep your program running after their commitments and investments in your organization or program is over.

How do you answer these questions?

What are grantmakers really asking?

Well, across funders there is little consensus on the definition and conceptualization of sustainability. Some funders want to see other investors in your projects and programs including other grants, donations and program income. While other funders are more interested in your ability to communicate and demonstrate a lasting impact on an individual or community served by your project.

Funders want to know that:

1) your organization is sustainable,

2) your proposed project is sustainable, and

3) their investment will have a lasting impact.


Let’s dig down for more clarity and define sustainability.


Sustainability is defined as the continuation or maintenance of a set of activities and resources intended to achieve the original objectives of a program or initiative. Beyond the broad sense of the term, grantmakers use of ‘sustainability’ falls, primarily, into four major categories, each emphasizing a distinct focal point as being at the heart of the sustainability process:

(1) adherence to program principles and objectives,

(2) organizational integration,

(3) maintenance of program benefits, and

(4) community capacity building


There are three different components of sustainability, each operating at a different levels:

1) Individual, 2) Organizational, and 3) Community

When you develop your responses to the questions of sustainability consider demonstrating your approach to those three different components of sustainability.


Can you answer the following questions and have you clearly communicated your answers in your proposal?

1. How will your proposed project result in maintaining benefits for individuals after initial program funding ends, particularly continuing to achieve beneficial outcomes for new clients (Category 3: Maintenance of Benefits)?

2. How will you design your program infrastructure and resources to continue program activities within an organizational structure and ensuring that program goals, objectives, and approaches adapt to changing needs over time (Category 1: Adherence to Program Principles and Objectives and Category 2: Organizational Integration)?

3. How will your proposed project build the capacity of the community to develop and deliver program activities, particularly when the program worked via a community coalition or other community capacity-developing process (Category 4: Building Community Capacity)?

For more information on grantmaker expectations in addressing the questions about sustainability try these resources:

Literature Review on Defining Sustainability



Text Chat on The Future Funding Question on GrantSpace



Sustainability Plan from the Corporation for National & Community Service -Americorps Sustainability Plan



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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Cindy says:

    Amen to general operating support! As a mid-sized, unique community music school in the Chicago area (budget approx $1.5 million), we continually have to say NO to projects that divert us from our core mission. If we don't, our mission and values will be diluted and we will not be successful. I wish funders would select organizations that have proven they can manage funds well and are the best in their field at doing what they're doing, and give them general opperating funds that would enable them to do an even better job in their mission and expand their reach in this way.

    • JM Grants says:

      @ Cindy – YES! Well said. Thank you for your comments. I believe more philanthropic organizations are seeing the value in selecting organizations that 1) have proven that they can manage funds, 2) can prove that they will get the results they promise, and 3) have shown a consistent focus in aligning projects, programs and outcomes with their core mission. There is  a shift in philanthropy to provide much needed whole organization support. Some foundations are offering specific general operating funds (see Dyson Foundation, KDK-Harman Foundation and many community foundations). While other foundations have come forward as Model Core Support Funders in support of the Institute for Philanthropy.  Also, check out the GEO report, Is Grantmaking Getting Smarter? There is hope! Now, finding the funders that value your mission and support core funding is the next step.  Jo


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