In Part 1 of this article we
examined why traditional approaches to sustainability have failed
to sustain organizations, and have also failed to create sweeping improvement
to the quality of life in our communities. In that article, we likened building
strong efforts to building a strong house, noting that a strong house needs not
only a strong foundation, but engaged interaction with people who will keep the
(If you have not read Part 1,
The following four steps show a path
towards creating that strong house. The steps make clear that there are indeed
practical tools for simultaneously building community strength and
organizational strength for the long haul.
Start Where We All Agree What
will our community look like if we are successful?
If we are to build
strong efforts to benefit our communities - the reason your organization exists
in the first place - it is important to first look beyond our organizations and
out towards that community. There are multiple reasons for this, as you will
see in the other steps. But the most important reason is that in reality, few
people care about your organization nearly as much as they care about their
So Step 1 is to identify what the
REAL goal is. And that real goal is that your community be better in some way,
and hopefully significantly better.
Success through the eyes of a food bank.
- Is your definition of
success a community where everyone who needs food has access to the food
- Or would success be a
community where everyone who needs food has access to food, period?
- Or might you define even
larger success, perhaps a community where everyone has all their basic needs
Step 2: Build Strong
What resources can we share?
Just as a strong house needs strong infrastructure, so does a strong
program. The strongest infrastructure is one that tightly interweaves resources
from all across your community, building engaged strength into the very
skeleton of your program.
A single thread, standing on its
own, can be blown away by the slightest breeze. But it would take quite a wind
to blow away a tightly interwoven blanket of many threads. When we build the
infrastructure of our programs by interweaving the resources of others in our
communities, we are building a foundation that is resilient, that cannot be
easily dismantled when times get tough.
How to do that? First map out your
program, starting from the very first step - perhaps the moment someone calls
on the phone or the moment someone walks in the door. What happens first? Then
what? Then what?
For every one of those functions,
ask, Is someone in town already doing that function? And if so, can we
partner with them?
If one of those functions is the
need for transportation to get people to your program, is someone in town
already transporting people, and might you partner with them? If you need
storage space, does another organization have excess space you might be able to
use? If you need bookkeeping, is someone in town already doing bookkeeping,
with whom you might be able to partner?
The infrastructure strength that
comes from building your programs on a base of shared resources is more than
the obvious - that it will likely cost less to build your program. The real
strength comes from the strength of that interwoven fabric. By building upon
the communitys existing resources, you are building a program that cannot
be easily blown away. In addition, every one of those partners will feel
ownership of your program in a way that builds engagement directly into the
core of your program.
By building programs upon a base of
shared resources, we are building strong engaged programs while simultaneously
building community strength. We are doing nothing less than building a spirit
of cooperation in our communities through the simple act of building a single
Step 3: Build Engaged
How can we strengthen our efforts
by engaging others? From that, who should we engage?
foundation is not enough to keep a house standing tall, year after year. For
that house to remain strong, it will need people who care about it, to maintain
the house throughout time.
It is important to note that
engaging the community in your program is not about fundraising. To build real
program strength, engagement is just what it says - a real two-way relationship
and commitment. It means talking with people whose lives are touched by your
work in any way, asking for their ideas, their wisdom and their experience.
As those who have read and
implemented the strategies in
FriendRaising know, engagement means making real friends. By
friends we dont mean, friend-as-euphemism-for-donor. We mean
real engaged friends, like we have in our real lives. Those are friends who
will do anything in the world for you, because they are committed to what you
care about. (That is why Step 1 is so important - identifying the community
vision you are striving to achieve.)
From program development, to
increasing your volunteer pool, to advocating to the City Council, to just
doing the day-to-day work of your programs, we can change the way we think
about those tasks to include engagement as the first action step, rather than
When it comes to increasing our
volunteer pool, how could that effort be strengthened by engaging the community
in our work? And who should we engage?
When it comes to advocating about an
issue before the City Council, how might that effort be strengthened by
engaging the community in our work? And who should we
When it comes to developing a new
program to meet a community need, how might that effort be strengthened by
engaging the community in our work? And who should we
When we build engagement
into the core of our organizations being, we are building more than
organizational strength. We are transforming our community into a force for
change. And that engaged group will support our work in all ways
Step 4: Use Your Assets to Generate
What are our existing assets, and
how can they help us build the income we need?
If your programs are
built on a base of shared resources, your infrastructure will be strong and you
will need less money. If you build engaged support among a huge number of
community members, your effectiveness will multiply and you will have an
unprecedented number of supporters.
At some point, however, you will
The most logical model for building
sustainable, reliable revenue streams is the model upon which wealthy
individuals have built financial stability for centuries: generating income
from what they have, rather than what they do. Bill Gates does not depend on
his 9-5 job for his income. He makes his money off what he already
Now before you say, But we
dont have an endowment, or We did that - we built an
endowment and the stock market made mincemeat of it! - there are assets
upon which community organizations can build that are not financial assets.
Those assets can generate revenue in good times and in bad times. You will find
an article describing those assets and how they can help generate revenue here:
By building and sustaining your
programs using these four steps, you will be building internal program
strength, engaging the community in maintaining the programs strength,
and generating cash flow by building upon those strengths - all while
simultaneously building Community strength. As a Community Benefit
Organization, no one could ask for more!
Part 3 of this article will compare
the results of Community-Driven Sustainability vs. traditional fundraising
here to go on to part 3 of this