Determined to Survive: Factors to Consider

June 2020

“How do we continue our programs, when funding is cut, using digital platforms with participants is new, and our services are in even greater demand?” We know this question is keeping many nonprofit executives up at night.

Leap Ambassador Kylie Hutchinson, Principal Consultant with Community Solutions Planning & Evaluation, recently shared her work in program sustainability research, which identifies 28 factors that influence a nonprofit’s ability to survive. Acknowledging that many of the 28 factors are connected to long-term goals, she highlighted some immediate strategies to consider.

Sustainability and Worst-Case Scenario Planning

Most nonprofits have a strategic plan, but few have considered the need for a sustainability plan. A sustainability plan is associated with greater sustainability, perhaps because it means you’ve thought through and prepared for both best- and worst-case scenarios. The first one is easy: Imagine money is flowing, programs are flourishing, program participants are receiving critical services, technology is working flawlessly, the team is embracing change, and whatever else may be on your wish list. (We see your eye-roll, “I wish” smirk.) That’s the best-case scenario, but the worst-case scenario is hard to think about, yet critical to planning and preparation for surviving the pandemic and ensuring sustainability. Sometimes, being forced to make decisions and changes helps leaders and teams to become even more creative with solutions. In this short video clip, Kylie offers a simple activity to spark a discussion that helps a leader and their team make decisions about how to move forward in a crisis.

Strong Leadership

Strong leadership is always a given for an effective organization; yet leaders facing difficult decisions now need to be even more adaptive and courageous. Pillar 1 of the Performance Imperative, collaboratively developed by the Leap Ambassadors Community, crystallizes the importance of leadership and can help identify specific actions executive and board members need to take.

Diversified Funding

Research shows that diversified funding promotes greater nonprofit sustainability, which is why leaders are always thinking about who and where they might turn for additional support. Many local foundations are offering funds with few or no strings attached to help keep your programs running. The U.S. Small Business Administration is offering loans to nonprofits with an option of forgiveness through the Paycheck Protection Program. And don’t forget to reach out to donors who are passionate about your mission and invested in seeing your work continue. Pillar 4: Financial Health and Sustainability in the Performance Imperative offers other helpful principles that Chief Financial Officers and CEOs can adapt for their own organizations.

Community Support and Visibility

This is definitely a time to rally your community for support! Yes, even while every other nonprofit is doing the same thing. Community support, program champions, and volunteers are identified in the research as strong influencers of survival and sustainability. Ask: “Who are the specific people among our constituents who are champions for our cause? What connections might they have to support us now?” Identify those in the community who feel ownership or have helped to create and mold what your organization is today. Can they help others see the critical need for your services? Are there creative ways to use volunteers to help your organization stay afloat now? Although volunteer management requires an investment of time, it’s often worth the time and energy when you’re clear about responsibilities. Read more about specific ways you can work with your stakeholders in COVID-19 Resources: How to Reach Your Donors and Volunteers.

Documented Worth and Value

Greater confidence in an organization’s ability to produce results is associated with sustainability. Pillar 7 of the Performance Imperative underscores the importance of external evaluation of your impact. If your organization has done an evaluation of outcomes, this is the time to highlight positive results. In the absence of an outcome evaluation, highlighting your use of evidence-informed practices, identifying any studies of similar programs with positive results you could use as proxy evidence from the research literature, or results from your own internal monitoring efforts can serve as alternatives.

Here are resources that we hope are helpful for the survival and sustainability of organizations:

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