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In grant seeking, the term ‘sustainability’ has several distinct meanings. One of its meanings raises questions about whether and to what degree an applicant is apt to continue to do what a requested grant will enable it to do after that initial grant ends.


Particularly when seeking large multiyear grants, school districts, like other applicants, must present cogent plans for future sustainability during the post-grant period. There are many ways they can address this issue in factual rather than conjectural terms. I offer seven possible ways here:


Organizational Precedents:

A proposal might describe a district’s past organizational commitments to arguably similar initiatives or projects. If a district has a 3-5 year (or longer) history of consistently investing in its technology infrastructure, or in its after school programs, or in its family/community engagement programs, there is a reasonable prospect — based on that recent track record — that such commitments (and funding trends) will continue after the completion of a new project to expand or intensify or perfect such efforts. I’d call this the Organizational Precedents strategy.


Plan Linkage:

A narrative might describe a district’s past and present organizational declarations of priorities, goals, and strategies— such as are often found in each school’s Site Improvement Plan as well as in a district’s Strategic Plan, Technology Plan, Professional Development Plan, and so on — and pull quotes judiciously from them. It can discuss how a proposed project is anchored in and advances such plans. If a new project advances an existing plan, already in place and adopted locally, its strategies are more likely to retain traction and elicit support after a new project — undertaken to serve as a catalyst for advancing such plans — comes to an end. I’d call this the Plan Linkage strategy.


Board Policy Directives:

A proposal might cite Board-adopted policies, goals, priorities, or similar imperatives or directives that relate to the new project and which that new project would either advance or serve to implement. If a proposed project has the local Board of Education behind it, its strategies (and their associated costs) are more likely to be sustained post-grant. I’d call this the Board Policy Directive strategy.


Leveraging Partnerships:

A narrative might describe a district’s pursuit and creation of partnerships with other (for-profit and non-profit) organizations whose organizational and/or financial resources might be brought to bear in sustaining the district’s project or initiative post-grant. A proposal might also describe local precedents for partnerships pooling their assets in pursuit of shared goals. If a project’s strategies reflect a broadly shared community vision they are more likely to persist post-grant. I’d call this the Leveraging Partnerships strategy.


Evaluation of Effectiveness:

A proposal might discuss how the findings of monitoring and evaluation will be used to identify effective project strategies and/or its key grant-funded positions or functions to be sustained by other means post-grant. Both monitoring and evaluation should be asking what works well and what does not, and it makes no sense for a district to continue what does not work well (or its associated costs) after a grant ends. I’d call this the Evaluation of Effectiveness strategy.


Seamless Funding:

An itemized budget and a budget justification narrative might demonstrate a district’s awareness of other (mandatory, formula-based) funding streams (e.g., NCLB Titles I, II, III, and VII and IDEA Part B, among many others) that may be brought to bear post-grant to sustain some of the project’s effective strategies and/or some of its key grant-funded positions or functions. Much of this funding is far less categorical, and far more flexible, than it once was, and it is thus expected to work in synergy with other funding sources, including discretionary grants. I’d call this the Seamless Funding strategy.


Expecting the Expected:

Finally, development office staff might remind administrators (whoever will listen) that if they do request funding for 50.0 FTE new grant-funded positions (as can happen in large urban comprehensive school reform projects), they need to realize that reviewers will expect its proposal to drop a few persuasive hints about how the district anticipates absorbing such significant costs post-grant. I’d call this the Expecting the Expected strategy.


There are other strategies. But perhaps these will provide a starting point.



  1. Very good comments. Sustainability is one of the most important, and most overlooked, aspects of the grant application. As you pointed out, a tie to the strategic plan is key to proving sustainability. That is why it is a very good idea to have a strategic plan in place before undertaking a large grant application.

    • I agree. It helps to have a strategic plan first. And sustainability is not an easy question to address. Nor is it one that will fade away any time soon.

  2. Reblogged this on Carson Harper.

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