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This post is one of a series about what goes into proposals that win grants. Its topic is sustainability plans. Its context is the United States of America.

 

A plan for long-term sustainability should guide development of virtually every grant proposal. Its focus should be what is expected to happen after requested funding has been spent and the funding period has ended. Its goal should be to carry forward those aspects of a project or initiative that proved most beneficial or most effective.

 

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Government grant makers often require a sustainability plan (or a continuation plan); generally, private grant makers require such a plan somewhat less frequently. A sustainability plan must describe how the applicant will sustain (or continue) activities and efforts similar to those for which it seeks funding from a specific grant maker.

 

In a sustainability (or continuation) plan, an applicant may provide evidence of commitments from:

  1. Internal leadership, e.g., the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or the Chair of a Board of Directors
  2. Partnering organizations (authorized executive leadership) or individuals
  3. Key community stakeholders

 

Among strategies for creating a viable sustainability (or continuation) plan are to:

  1. Structure the undertaking to reduce the costs of its long-term continuation
  2. Use a Train-the-Trainers Model for professional development
  3. Plan to build organizational capacity during the grant period
  4. Minimize grant-paid personnel as a portion of the total proposed budget
  5. Identify and secure alternate funding sources during the grant period
  6. Plan to use marketing to persuade key audiences of the undertaking’s worthiness of long-term funding
  7. Plan to use evaluation findings to identify which elements are worth sustaining

 

If a project or initiative is not sustainable, future funding to continue it is unlikely. Conversely, if the funding for a project or initiative is not continued by other means, its activities are unlikely to be sustained beyond an initial grant period.

 

Both closely related questions – sustainability and continuation – require an applicant to anticipate what it will do in the long term, which is typically beyond the duration of an initial grant-funded project. They represent two of the most challenging aspects of both seeking and making discretionary grants for the purpose of local capacity building.

 

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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.

The vocabulary of budget development is part of the language required for writing successfully funded grant proposals. This final set of entries covers words and phrases from R-Z.

RECIPIENT: An individual or organization that will receive a grant or has received a grant.

REGULATIONS: Administrative guidelines for government grants, issued after enabling legislation, which establish and define eligible applicants; eligible beneficiaries; the nature of activities to be funded; allowable costs; selection criteria for proposal review; and other requirements. Example: At http://www2.ed.gov/policy/fund/reg/edgarReg/edgar.html are found the Education Department General Administrative Regulations (EDGAR).

REPLICABILITY: The proven or predicted ability of a project’s effective activities and strategies to be transportable to another setting and to generate similar results in it; it is a factor in considering the potential impact of an initial grant award and is a criterion often associated with grant programs that fund demonstration projects. Also see: Demonstration Grant.

REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS (RFP): A formal invitation to apply for a grant that describes what types of applicants are eligible to apply; when proposals are due; the program selection criteria; the contents required in a complete proposal; anticipated levels and durations of funding; and other considerations. The specific length and contents of an RFP vary widely from one grant program and one solicitation to another. Also may be called: request for applications (RFA).

RESTRICTED FUNDS: Funds that a grant recipient may use only for predetermined purposes – such as those defined in the approved budget of a funded grant proposal – and that consequently it cannot expend as general funds.

REVIEW PANEL: A group of peers or experts retained by a grant-maker to evaluate the merits of grant proposals in a grant competition and to recommend which ones should be funded. Sometimes the reviewers may include one or more directors or trustees of a foundation.

SALARIES: The compensation of professional and technical personnel – who are typically limited only to those holding a post-secondary degree – before the addition of fringe benefits.

SEED MONEY: A grant award intended to help start a new project or initiative or to launch a new non-profit organization.

SELECTION CRITERIA: The formal set of factors a grant-maker uses in scoring and ranking a set of competitive proposals to determine which ones it will select for funding. Also may be called: criteria or review criteria.

SINGLE POINT OF CONTACT (SPOC): A person in state government whom an applicant must inform when it is applying for a federal grant in the US. A list of single points of contact is at www.whitehouse.gov/omb/grants_spoc. Some states have a SPOC, others don’t.

SOFT FUNDS: The funding of staff positions or other resources using grant funds rather than other means such as revenues from tax levies; it reflects the premise that such assets are not as secure, over the long term, as those funded using other means (e.g., annual tax levies). Also see: Hard Funds.

STANDARD FORM: A blank template that an applicant must complete and submit, as each specific program requires, with its application for a federal grant. A comprehensive collection of standard forms is at http://www07.grants.gov/agencies/aforms_repository_information.jsp, but be certain to observe strictly the cautionary guidance available at this site.

SUB-GRANTEE: A lower-tier recipient (e.g., a county agency) of grant funds from a higher-tier recipient of those funds (e.g., a state agency) and not directly from the grant maker; also called a sub-recipient. Also see: Grantee.

SUPPLANTING: A deliberate shifting or displacement in the source of funds (e.g., state or local) used to afford a given resource (e.g., personnel) in an organization because of the availability of federal grant funds after a new grant award. One caveat in many government grant programs is “Do not supplant.”

SUPPLIES: A cost category for consumable resources such as paper, pens, pencils, postage, folders, files, binders, paperclips, toner, blank data storage media, and similar office products. Definitions and thresholds for value of the discrete items vary widely across grant programs and funding agencies. Also see: Materials.

SUSTAINABILITY: A measure of the perceived likelihood that an applicant (and its partners, if any) will be able to obtain and use funding (and other resources) from itself and/or other sources to continue its proposed project or initiative after its initial grant funding ends. Grant-makers of all types often favor proposals that exhibit a high potential for sustainability.

TRAVEL: A cost category for costs associated with going place-to-place, including fares (air, bus, train, taxi, or shuttle), vehicle rentals or leases, mileage, tolls, meals, tips, and lodging. Every item assigned to this category must be clearly defined and well justified.

UNIFORM APPLICATION FORMS: The standard forms that applicants must complete and submit with applications for federal grants; several of them require specific or detailed budget information. Examples: SF-424 and SF-524. In federal programs, these are associated with specific grant opportunities posted on www.grants.gov.

UNRESTRICTED FUNDS: Funds from a grant or any other source that an organization may use for any legal purpose, such as general funds or operating funds.

WAGES: The hourly compensation of non-professional personnel – typically all of those who do not hold a post-secondary degree – before the addition of fringe benefits, if any.

Later posts will tackle types and sources of data used in winning grant proposals.

The vocabulary of project development is part of the language required for writing successfully funded grant proposals. This set of entries covers words and phrases from A-D.

ACTIVITY: A step or action taken to achieve one or more project objectives. Often many steps or actions are necessary to achieve each objective. An activity can occur just once or any number of times; it can be singular or it can be part of a series or sequence of related activities.

ADMINISTRATOR: The person or office responsible (1) for leading or guiding the implementation of a project or initiative, (2) for monitoring the overall progress and performance of a project or initiative, and/or (3) for taking corrective actions to keep a project or initiative on track and on budget whenever necessary.

APPLICANT: The individual or organization seeking a grant and proposing to manage, expend, and account for expenditures of grant funds if they are awarded.

ASSESSMENT: A formal or informal measurement of the status of one or more issues of interest to an individual or organization, or the means or instrument used to measure the status of one or more such issues. Often an assessment is repeated at a regular interval, e.g., each year.

BENCHMARK: An external frame of reference or a state of affairs used as a source or basis of comparison and as a target towards which a project or an initiative aspires. Example: A nationally validated model program. Alternatively, an internal periodic target towards which a project or initiative aspires. Example: Yearly increments of 10% improvement over the baseline performance on some measure in a multiyear project.

BENEFICIARY: A person, or class of persons, intended to experience improvements or to benefit, either directly or indirectly, from a project or initiative. Also see: Participant and Target Population.

BENEFIT: A measurable change in a person or class of persons observed as a direct or indirect consequence of a project or initiative. Examples: Higher reading scores. Lower dropout rates.

CAPABILITY: The ability of an organization or individual to bring to bear specific resources, to do specific tasks, or to obtain desired results – often within a defined time-span – such as those resources or tasks or results described in the Work Plan or elsewhere in a grant proposal.

CAPACITY: The ability or competence of an applicant and its partners, if any, to implement its activities, to achieve its objectives, to accomplish its goals, and to advance its vision or mission. Alternatively, an ability or competence, created as a consequence of a grant award, to perform later tasks or activities similar to those performed during a grant period.

COLLABORATION: The processes of implementing shared goals, joint leadership, and shared responsibility and accountability, and of accruing shared resources and benefits during a project or initiative; often they are described as part of a Management Plan. Also see: Management Plan.

COMMITMENT: A measure of an applicant’s or a partnership’s investment of its own limited financial and programmatic resources in undertaking a project or initiative proposed for grant funding.

CONCEPT: A description of the overall vision and rationale underlying a project or initiative, or one of the detailed plans for making it happen within a defined timeframe; organizations often submit a concept to a potential private funder in a “concept paper.”

CONSTITUENT: A beneficiary, a client, or a participant in a project or initiative. Examples: a college student; an infant; a refugee; a family living in poverty; a first grader.

CONTINUATION: A plan to sustain some or all aspects of a project or initiative after initial grant funding ends. Alternatively, a grant award made for any defined period after a project’s initial funding period. Also see: Sustainability.

CRITERIA: The guidelines, standards, or scoring rubric that decision makers use to rate and rank a proposal submitted to a grant maker; also may be called selection criteria or review criteria.

DISSEMINATION: The process of sharing a project’s strategies and results with its target audiences. It expands the original project’s impact, informs stakeholders of its significance and accomplishments, and builds awareness and support for its continuation by other means after initial grant funding ends.

A later post will cover entries in this glossary with the initial letters E-N.

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