21st CCLC: State Education Agency

Supporting Program Sustainability and Growth

A quality program has a coherent vision and mission as well as a plan for increasing capacity that supports continuing growth.

The best programs are great only for as long as they survive. While grant funding is likely to be an important part of any youth program's funding plan, if your sustainability plan consists of the idea that you will write another proposal when your current funding ends, you are not doing the best for the children, families, staff, and partners in your program.

Using the entire Program Quality Self-Assessment tool will help identify areas of strength and weakness in your program and therefore assist in your sustainability planning. This section is specific to those concepts that will help ensure that your program is sustainable.

A Quality Program…

  1. Has a written statement of mission and goals.

    The first step in sustaining a program is knowing what you want to sustain and why.

    • Does your program have written mission and vision statements?
    • Are your goals connected to your mission and vision?
    • Is your program results oriented?
    • Are your goals measurable (e.g., Can you tell when you have reached them?)

    Having a clear vision and a way to measure whether your goals have been attained allows you to know where you are going and whether you have arrived. Funders and key stakeholders are more likely to support an initiative with clear goals and objectives, especially if you are able to document success.

    If your program has not yet created mission and vision statements or identified measurable goals, consider whether an outside facilitator is needed to accomplish this step. The Finance Project has a strategic planning process for sustainability that includes refining your mission and goals. A number of New York State Afterschool Network partners have been trained in this process and have trained facilitators who work with programs on sustainability planning, including this initial part of the process.

    If your mission is solid but your goals and objectives are not yet clear, consider working with your evaluator to ensure that the outcomes you are achieving can be documented and measured.

  2. Employs staff who understand and embrace the program's mission and goals.

    Your staff should be able to repeat the mission and vision of your program without even thinking. The work you do always clearly should reflect back to the mission.

    • Is your mission and vision clear and simple?
    • Do staff members agree with the mission and vision?
    • Do staff members use the mission statement when introducing the program to new participants or members of the community?

    Staff development is a key piece of ensuring that your staff understand and reflect your program's mission. Consider including information on your mission and vision during the orientation phase of employment, in the staff handbook, and during ongoing professional development.

  3. Involves participants, families, staff, and board members in long-term decision-making and planning efforts.

    If decision making and planning are done by a small group of high-level staff, you are wasting time and resources. The people whose lives are most affected by your programming should have a voice in the decisions that are made in your organization. Board members are more likely to provide active support to initiatives when they have been part of designing those efforts. Involving key stakeholders in planning will ensure that you have all the information you need and everyone is on board with the decisions that are made.

    • How do you involve youth and their families in planning and decision making?
    • Do you schedule planning meetings at times when youth and families are able to attend?
    • How are staff involved in planning and decision making?
    • Do you provide staff with adequate time to participate in planning meetings?
    • How do you involve board members in planning and decision making?
    • Are planning meetings scheduled at times when board members can attend?

    Sometimes it seems as if we are so busy providing services there is no time for planning. Quality programs understand that taking the time to engage in planning and sharing decision making with participants and staff improve the effectiveness of the programs we offer.

    It is not always necessary to have every person attend every meeting. Student and parent input sometimes can be gained through focus groups, surveys, and by having small-group meetings for the purpose of getting their feedback. Consider offering a meal or a snack and other incentives to support parent and student involvement.

    Board members should be invited to participate on all organizational committees and involved in decision making. Consider having the board members who serve on your committees provide regular committee reports to your board of directors. It will keep everyone in the loop and provide them with a sense of their own involvement and the fact that they are key members of the team.

  4. Develops a long-term plan for sustaining the afterschool program.

    There are many excellent resources available to assist you in development of a long-term plan for sustaining your program. Development of a sustainability plan should be a team effort. The Finance Project suggests that stakeholder groups should be formed to develop a long-term plan for sustainability and that such plans be revisited about every three years. A sustainability plan should include the following:

    • Executive summary that can be used for marketing purposes
    • Description of your initiative, including history, progress, and future plans
    • Strategic considerations, including internal and external strengths and challenges
    • Financing plan that will document future funding needs, current sources of funding, and strategies and sources you will pursue to meet your goals
    • Action plan and timetable to identify milestones and the time it will take to achieve your strategies
    • Appendixes and supporting documentation

    After the plan has been developed the following are necessary:

    • Make sure you have communicated the plan with your board, staff, participants, families, and the community.
    • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Use multiple methods to share your sustainability plan—in writing, in e-mails, at meetings tell your staff once, then tell them again, and then tell them again.
    • "Message sent" does not necessarily mean that the message has been received. Make sure people understand what you are sharing.
    • Have the information available in multiple languages (if needed in your community).
    • Have a community meeting with parents and students to share the new or existing plan.
    • When you revise the plan, make sure that the changes are communicated to the board, staff, parents, and students.
  5. Accesses resources within the community by seeking support from, and building relationships with, local businesses and institutions.

    Many businesses have an outreach budget that must be used for community projects. Sometimes such funding is underutilized because no one in the community has asked for the available support.

    • Have you made connections with your local Better Business Bureau?
    • Have you presented information on your programs to local clubs (e.g., Rotary, Lions)?
    • Do you know the process and deadlines for requesting donations and supplies from local stores and businesses (e.g., department stores, supermarkets, large corporations) that have a presence in your community, and have you applied for such donations?
    • Do you invite local businesses to participate in program activities?
    • Have you considered hosting a job fair for parents and youth at your program using local businesses and institutions?

    Local businesses have a stake in ensuring that communities have effective programs for children and families. Their future workforce may depend on the success of such programs. In addition, there is ample evidence to show that juvenile crime decreases in communities that provide safe and supportive opportunities after the school day.

  6. Forges relationships with advocates for program quality and availability, such as community leaders, businesses, and elected officials.

    Such people can serve as key champions for your programs. They can bring visibility to initiatives through their ability to speak out in public venues. They may also recruit other leaders to provide resources.

    • Do you invite local political leaders to visit your program and attend special events?
    • Do you include business leaders on your board and committees?
    • What sort of training and support can you provide to parents and participants to help them speak for your program?

    Consider the type of key champions you want on your side. You should be as inclusive as possible, seeking out spokespeople who are right for your program. For example, if you are trying to reach out to parents, consider asking a parent to speak on your behalf.

  7. Has an effective marketing strategy that publicizes the program and its achievements within the school and broader community.

    A great program should not be a well-kept secret. Use your successes as a way to reach out to others and tell them about your program.

    • Do you have a brochure that describes your program and its goals?
    • Is that brochure available in all languages that are appropriate to your community?
    • Do you send out press releases when something good happens in your program?
    • Do you have a program newsletter? How is it distributed? Are you reaching all the stakeholders you need to include?
    • Do you have a website for your program?
    • Are youth and families involved in designing the content for your materials?

    Consider using multiple mechanisms for getting the word out about your program. Use some of the time you invest in sustainability planning to develop an effective marketing strategy and revisit that strategy at least every three years. Make sure you include ways to reach out to families, businesses, community members, and political leaders. Remember—nothing succeeds like success!