The social-good sectors in the United States and Canada are significant contributors to the economy and to the health and well-being of communities. Despite their important role, the social-good sector is increasingly faced with challenges that impede growth and sustainability, leaving at-risk individuals and families without the programs and services needed to help them thrive.
To sustain means to “maintained at length without interruption or weakening.” Long-term sustainability is one of the primary challenges of organizations looking to drive social change. Addressing complex social issues requires collaboration to develop solutions that are far-reaching and long-lasting.
The Tamarack Institute has researched thousands of social good organizations over more than twenty years. Their recently released report “A Guide for Building a Sustainable and Resilient Collaboration” provides insights and best practices for creating a sustainable social-good collaborative in your community.
According to the Tamarack Institute, sustainability is a product of several distinct but interdependent factors. Strong leadership, at both the organization and collaborative level, is necessary to get things organized and keep them moving. Continued funding enables programs to be developed, implemented, and maintained. Community engagement leads to lasting change by involving community members in their own solutions. Each of these factors contributes to the sustainability of a collaborative and the interruption or weakening of any of them will create a barrier to long-term success.
Assess the Sustainability of Your Collaborative
Is your social-good collaborative sustainable? Assessing the sustainability of your collaborative starts with asking the right questions.
Do you, your partners, and your funders share a definition of success?
Funders are investors who seek community improvement or social changes as a return on their investment. The best way to secure their continued financial support is by making sure that your goals align with community needs, as that is often the goal of the public and your funders alike In order to work towards a common goal, all parties need a common definition of success.
What resources will you need to sustain your collaboration?
Understanding the cost of running programs and providing services is essential to creating long-term sustainability. You cannot plan for necessary resources, both financial and human, if you do not understand what you need.
Is the community invested in change?
Your best chance of lasting impact is to involve community leaders and community members to help you identify needs and raise awareness of your programs.
Factors That Create Sustainability
As part of the recently released guide, The Tamarack Institute provides a list of what they call “Really Good Sustainability Factors.” Here are just a few.
Equity and inclusion are part of the design.
Equity and inclusion are about making sure that everyone has access to the same opportunities, even when they don’t start from the same place. Deeper impact and sustainable change require both equity and inclusion.
All partners contribute to a shared outcome.
Part of working cooperatively is providing complimentary services. The best cooperatives involve partners with varied skills and resources that can come together to create a solution that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Partners practice ongoing reflection and learning.
Communities change, needs shift, and strategies require refinement. The most sustainable collaboratives develop a culture of ongoing reflection that allows them to learn from the past and pivot for the future. The most valuable reflection includes community members and leaders, as well as partners.
The Approach is data-driven and evidence based.
Existing data, such as from vital statistics or demographic studies, can help you assess issues and challenges as you get started with your collaborative. Using these same indicators can also allow you to create a baseline to measure against in the future.
Collaborative tracks and communicates progress and impact.
Implement a shared technology infrastructure for tracking and communicating real time quantitative and qualitative impact data. Sharing data facilities cooperation, but it also allows you to show credibility as you expand your reach to include additional funders and community stakeholders.
Sustainability in Action
The Halton Our Kids Network started over twenty-five years ago to improve the outcomes of children and youth in Halton, Ontario, Canada. The network includes school districts, municipal governments, multi-cultural centers, and dozens of other participating agencies.
Our Kids Network works to make sure children and youth are healthy, safe, learning, and positively connected. They also strive to support strong and stable families, healthy neighborhoods, and community connected schools. They do this, in part, through initiatives meant to create authentic youth engagement.
Local Investment Toward Employment (LITE) has spent the last thirty years funding initiatives that create economic opportunity for vulnerable populations in Winnipeg, Canada. LITE’s founders noticed that charitable food donations that originated outside of the community were hurting local businesses by creating less demand. They organized an effort to purchase goods at the local stores, which could then be donated to community members in need.
LITE maintains a network of charities, businesses, organizations, and nonprofits that work to address on-the-ground needs in the local community. LITE works to remain flexible and adaptable in order to meet the unique needs of individuals who might be missed by other resources.
Both the Our Kids Network and LITE collaboratives strive to maintain evidence-based, data-driven collaboratives are committed to creating sustainable change that is far-reaching and long-lasting.
At SureImpact, we are passionate about helping our partners drive long-term social change. SureImpact is a user-friendly data-collection and reporting platform that is specifically designed to provide the centralized infrastructure for social-good collaboratives. SureImpact connects all members of the social-service ecosystem with real-time analytics dashboards, while also meeting the unique data-collection and reporting needs of each organization. SureImpact increases data capacity for partner organizations while also giving backbone organizations and funders the real-time insights that demonstrate what types of interventions are most beneficial to solve complex social problems and increase their social return on investment.
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