Have you heard of the term “seed money”? Basically, it refers to how grant funders prefer to fund a project the first time, plant the seed for future growth. The funder expects that you will be able to sustain the program once it’s started.

Why? Donors are not interested in adopting a project indefinitely.

Funders want assurances that the project they fund – or the benefits it generates – will endure over time. Ask yourself 2 questions:

1) What kind of assurance can you give that the idea or project you’re proposing will endure over time?

2) What strategies could you implement that will increase chances that what you start will be sustained and maintained over time.

The Sustainability Plan is a weak section of most grant proposals. In this article, you will learn 21 strategies to create a sustainability plan that will make your proposals more competitive and diversify your funding streams.

Unfortunately, I learned the “sustainability” lesson the hard way. Here’s my story …

In 1993, the $2.5 million in federal grant funding (my first grant) ended. I didn’t realize until it was too late that the Fed’s were serious about only funding programs for five years.

Sadly, we had no sustainability plan in place.

I had to let go of 25 teachers and tell 3,000 students – newly legalized immigrants – that they no longer had classes. We were able to sustain some classes on a fee-for-service basis. However, the heart of the program died with the funding. I was devastated.

I hadn’t realized until it was too late that getting grant “seed money” is a blessing AND a curse. On the one hand, the money can create many great projects and do great things. On the other, agencies are responsible for coming up with their own ways to sustain their efforts after they’ve started.

Since learning about sustainability the hard way, I committed to ensuring that ever program I worked with from that point forward would have a sustainability plan in place. In fact, every one of 50 grant-initiated programs with which I have been involved since then have been sustained over time!


Here are 21 “proven” strategies to choose from for your sustainability plan …

1) Apply for other grants from other sources. There are four main funder types: foundations, corporations, government agencies, and civic organizations. Keep in mind that other funders may not want to keep a program going either. So, include a strong Sustainability Plan in every proposal you submit.

2) Let the organization absorb future funding responsibilities (if the agency is large enough). This happened in the case of a Single Parent – Displaced Homemaker program at the local college. The President and college administration found ways to use more secure state, tax-based funding combined with various federal and state grants to keep the program going, but only after it had proven itself.

3) Use fee-for-service. Charge the clients a portion of the cost as tuition or fee. When my first grant funding dried up, we convinced the county and city to fund a portion of the cost of the classes. We charged the students the balance. The city grant helped reduced students’ costs. (A variation of this is to use a “sliding scale.”)

4) Use sponsorships or 3rd party subsidies. For example, a local summer camp for handicapped children gets corporations and individual donors to “sponsor” a kid for the summer. Programs like “adopt-a-hungry kid,” “adopt-an-orphan” or “adopt-a-whale” are great sponsorship programs.

5) Start a for-profit social enterprise. Our local disabled adults do projects like running a clothing story, putting labels on envelopes for large mailings, and even help with horticulture projects. This idea literally puts clients to work.

6) Do annual fundraiser events. Select a “high return on investment” fundraiser that you can do on an annual basis, like a golf tournament, celebrity event, concert, raffle, dinner, or roast. Stay away of low-return fundraisers like bake sales and car washes. Set a threshold for your efforts, like a minimum of $10,000 per year.

7) Develop recurring revenue streams, like membership programs and websites. For example, create a “membership website” that takes what your agency does and shares something every month with members.

8) Create an endowment campaign. Most large charities have caught on that one of the best ways to sustain programs is by creating an endowment fund. Basically, an endowment fund invests money received and spends 5% or so every year from the interest made from the investment of its assets. This is how many foundations work. You’re able to spend the interest from investing your assets each year without touching the principal.

9) Create a Planned Giving program. These may be called “wills” or “bequests,” gifts given when a person transitions. According to Giving USA, in 2011 giving by bequests rose to $24.41 Billion with 85 percent coming from itemizing estates.

10) Create a Development office. In addition to grants, a Development office can coordinate your Planned Giving, an endowment campaign, and other forms of fundraising.

11) Create a campaign. Capital campaigns are popular initiatives to pull resources and people together to focus on raising money to build a building. You can also create a campaign for almost anything, like a class trip, Christmas gifts for needy children, or food drive for the hungry.

12) Create a scholarship office. Pool your efforts to assist students or clients in finding grants and loans to pay for their own education or programs. Consolidate everything in a one-stop location. The university from which I received my first Bachelors degree from says that at least 86% of its students are receiving scholarships. I love how students are involved in helping other students find scholarships.

13) Start a special tax initiative. Connect with a U.S. or state Senator or Representative who is sympathetic with your project. Brainstorm with them how to get state funding or start a tax initiative. One community college and high school in Florida combined their efforts along with state representatives to secure $1 million in a “planning grant” to build a new tech center that could be shared by high school students by day and college students by night and weekends. Time your initiative well, so you aren’t perceived as overburdening tax payers.

14) Reduce costs through shared expenses. Perhaps some of the aspects of your program could be picked up by another organization. For example, your intake could be picked up by an agency that specializes in that. Your marketing could be absorbed by another agency that has the expertise to do that. You could partner with comparable agencies to share in fundraising and grant writing costs. Then, you have time to specialize in what you do best.

15) Create a Facebook “Cause”. This is especially helpful when someone on the board is having a birthday. One way to celebrate the birthday is by promoting and giving to the cause online.

16) Let other businesses raise money for you. The local grocery chain features a different nonprofit every month. A certain percentage of all purchases on a certain day goes to the nonprofit. I see this a lot in the fall when businesses donate office supplies and needed items to children, based on purchases.

17) Engage clients in your campaign. Empower clients to get involved in Pay It Forward or other campaigns that get them involved in fundraising and giving back. For example, take a look at alumni organizations for colleges and universities. This can take place “after” clients are receive services. Or, it can take place “during” the time when clients are receiving services. This is great because they have a vested interest in keeping the funding coming and the program continuing.

18) Create and sell products online. The Food for Everyone Foundation has written some great books on organic gardening. These are available online with proceeds going to the Foundation. Create products – like eBooks, MP3’s, Special Reports – using your nonprofit’s expertise. I produced a CD of a “live” presentation done by a thought leader on a topic of much interest. 50% of all proceeds go to the Foundation for Conscious Living.

19) Do a unique fundraiser tapping the expertise of a person or business. For example, a mentor and colleague – Alex Mandossian – is a genius interviewer and facilitator of teleseminars. Alex created a telefundraiser in which he interviews different thought leaders every month. People pay $20 to listen in. All proceeds go to micro-finance loans for entrepreneurs in third world countries. He’s raised tens of thousands to support entrepreneurship, which is his passion.

20) Become an affiliate. Align yourself and your agency with a product or service in your area. Then, when you refer someone, your agency receives a commission. It’s important that this be part of your mission and that you check with your accountant. In the worse case, the revenue is counted as “taxed” and not “tax-exempt”.

21) Apply for membership in federal fundraising initiatives. For example, apply to the United Way for ongoing funding from corporate donations.


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Author's Bio: 

With a 93% grant success rate and $1.2 Billion in grant funding for over 3,000 students, the Grant Professor Phil Johncock is the “world’s greatest grant writer” according to Mark Victor Hansen, co-creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul. Check out the Grant Professor’s 3-day Grants Conference and How to Create a Grant Readiness 3-Ring Binder for U.S. Nonprofits, as well as Grant Professional Certification (GPC) Exam Prep course for experienced grant writers.