Sustainability. What does it mean for your not-for-profit organization and how are you addressing it, if at all? For many not-for-profits, sustainability has become one of the leading topics of discussion in board meetings and strategic planning initiatives, and is considered by management in their approach to each day’s operations.
The subject has also become more prevalent through conversations with funders, grantors, and donors as their focus has changed from immediate support for a worthwhile mission to a long-term outcome approach; namely, an investment in the future of the organization and the community it serves.
Faced with changes in funding models and with a highly competitive process to access new financial resources, organizations need to evolve their focus past simply delivering on their mission.
By definition – and who does not appreciate a little clarity in understanding the meaning or significance of a word – sustainability is “the ability to be sustained, supported, upheld, or confirmed.” To further deepen that understanding, to sustain means to provide for an establishment or institution by furnishing means or funds; to support means to maintain and/or provide for an establishment or institution by supplying them with things necessary to exist; uphold means to keep up or keep from sinking; and confirm means to make firm or more firm, adding strength.
So how are you providing for your organization with means or funds for the things necessary for its continued existence, thereby adding strength and keeping it from sinking? Taking action to protect your organization’s sustainability may be much more complex than management or the board members realize.
While the concept of sustainability may have found its origins in the management of financial resources, it has developed into a more complex and challenging topic. In a continuously changing landscape, sustainability is not only financial but also programmatic, technological, strategic, and dependent upon human capital.
Defining sustainability for an organization is the first step; from there, the next step is to strategize to build strength and capacity. The decisions fall among choices such as diversifying resources, recruiting team members and/or volunteers, addressing succession planning at various levels, and/or building mutually beneficial strategic partnerships and alliances.
When thinking about the sustainability of your organization, adaptability and perspective are key – the organization needs to monitor, assess, respond to, and create change while focusing on its ability to connect with stakeholders and to emphasize organizational outcomes and performance.
So how will your organization answer this call to action? While addressing sustainability may present a challenge in many ways, it will ultimately strengthen and help preserve the organization in fulfilling its mission for many years to come.
Elizabeth F. Pilacik can be reached at Email or 215.441.4600.
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