This month’s webinar and newsletter are focused on sustainability – a topic that can seem overwhelming, but with focused attention is actually quite simple. What is sustainability? It’s the ability to implement programming over time, and it’s accomplished by creating an organizational plan for long-term fiscal and programmatic health.

What is sustainability? It’s the ability to implement programming over time, and it’s accomplished by creating an organizational plan for long-term fiscal and programmatic health. Building sustainability is being proactive, creative, innovative, and adaptable when considering your program’s partners and funding streams.  To be successful and to build true long-term program sustainability that can weather funding fluctuations, planning must be an ongoing process, even as the program is in a position of relative fiscal strength and stability. Here, we focus our attention on building strong partnerships and diversifying funding to achieve sustainability. YouthBuild programs can also learn more about how to build sustainability by downloading Making Your Dollars Go Further.  This resource provides valuable tips and strategies to support YouthBuild program sustainability.

Ensuring sustainability inherently means that Department of Labor (DOL) funding becomes one source of funding, not the sole source of programmatic funding. This allows the program to maintain stability through the ebbs and flows of funding. Stability is essential to ensuring consistency and dependability in the program for both the current students who rely on the services offered by the program for their own livelihood and future growth and the staff that represent the professional investment made by the program to ensure participant services are available and effective. The sense of consistency and dependability provided by a stable organization increases viability and visibility in the community for potential future students, beneficiaries, partners, and funders. The flexibility available in a sustainable organization also ensures that the program’s current partners see the lasting effects of their investment, which both serves to ensure their own continued funding and also leverages new partners.

Partnership Development

Partnerships are a cornerstone of any strong community development organization, and certainly of any YouthBuild program. They can create capacity where it didn’t previously exist, fill gaps in services, and leverage new resources, including in-kind and cash funding. Partnership development must be intentional. All strong and long-lasting partnerships are based on relationships that have been thoughtfully cultivated. Partnerships can be time-consuming, requiring focused attention to ensure they flourish. A partner’s staff turnover, funding loss, mission shift, or changing expectations can require renegotiation or even reevaluation of the partnership. Partnerships must be mutually beneficial, so that partners can see the long-term return on investment of their time, energy, and funds.

When developing partnerships, the first step is to do a scan of your organization, considering what resources or services the organization lacks or needs strengthened and what strengths and values your own organization can bring to any new partnership. Next, educate yourself. Make sure you understand your local community – the labor market, emerging industries, dropout rates, employer needs, available resources, etc. Use that data to connect with desirable partners. Visit local businesses and community organizations to network, attend potential partners’ open meetings, join committees, and, initiate meetings with major entities in your community. Be prepared to describe your program’s needs, the mutual benefits of partnership, and plan to negotiate to get to a desirable middle ground.  Finally, formalize partnerships with MOUs that lay out both partners’ goals, expectations, and responsibilities.

Examples of potential partners for YouthBuild grantees include those that can provide support in key programmatic components like a local post-secondary education institution for high school equivalency (HSE) instruction or a local employer who can provide the required work experience for a Construction Plus industry. Other YouthBuild programs in your state can also be excellent partners to collaborate with for shared state funding. Corporate partners can bring volunteers, in-kind donations, funding, and local media attention to build capacity and visibility.  As required partners, American Job Centers can fill many service needs, such as recruitment, participant assessments, and placement services.

Diversification of Funds

In the best of circumstances, partnerships can also lead to new funding streams to support the organization.  Ensuring such funding streams continue for the long run means ensuring awareness of the needs of funding partners, which are often more complex than those of service or referral partners.  Many funders want to be prioritized as a primary funder – perhaps wanting their logo to be used throughout program resources, or requesting frequent engagement and/or specialized reporting. It’s imperative to ensure that the grantee has the capacity to manage these relationships with special care, as well as ensuring multiple funding streams can be tracked responsibly, accurately and with full accountability.  When establishing the relationship, funders need to understand the scope of the organization’s work and how they might add to that framework. With that in mind, also remember that funders often want to fund something new – something that adds to the existing work instead of funding the existing work as it already stands. Be creative and thoughtful about how the grantee sells a new twist on existing work and how to match that ask to the interests and goals of the funder. On the other hand, it is important that organizations do not chase money just for the sake of increased funding.  If a funding opportunity is too far afield, the grantee runs the risk of poor performance.  Once a program has failed to meet funding requirements, that funder, and potentially others, may be lost. 

When considering how to diversify funding streams, investigate many different sources of grantors, including Federal, state, local or regional private organizations or corporations, national private organizations or corporations, as well as using fundraising events and strategies, and fee-for-service options. Some examples of each include:

  • Federal/state – WIOA Youth and Adult funds, Community Development Block Grants, state line items, or grants from other Federal agencies, such asthe United States Department of Agriculture, the United States Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, or the Corporation for National and Community Service
  • Local/regional private organizations or corporations – United Way, local family foundations, corporate giving options, banks and credit unions
  • National private organizations or corporations –partner with other organizations (other local YouthBuild programs, local Housing Authority, etc.) to collectively seek funding from larger grant sources
  • Fundraising – direct mail campaigns, donor cultivation, events (ribbon cuttings, graduation, celebrations, etc.), social media campaigns
  • Fee-for-Service – create a business plan focused on an area of strength in your program, for example a handyman business, catering, or weatherization

For more information on utilizing partners and diversifying funds to build sustainability, watch the recording of our August 2018 webinar, Sustainability: Partnership Development and Diversification of Funds.

Related Resources

Achieving Sustainability at a YouthBuild Program

Sustainability Planning Guide

Sustainability Worksheets

The Sustainability Framework and Assessment Tool