Working in the field of childhood obesity, I've recently been learning a lot about the slow food movement and talking to advocates addressing hunger and access to healthy foods. One such advocate recently sent me a link to a blog posting where the author saved a McDonald's hamburger for 12 years and it looked pretty much the same from day one. During the same time of reconsidering whether I will ever eat another McDonald's hamburger, my foundation (like many others) is being confronted with reductions to both our administrative and our grant making budgets. My team just completed re-prioritizing our current and future grant making plans which included looking a lot more closely at sustainability. How long will a program last after our immediate grant ends?
I've also been reflecting on the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy report "Criteria for Philanthropy at its Best". It had been on my reading list for a couple of months now and I finally got around to at least reading select chapters. One that particularly caught my attention was the "Effectiveness" criterion. I have been a proponent for operational grants for quite some time because, when done right, they can lead to strengthening the sustainability of an organization. I also support multi-year grants but with the stipulation that the funder and organization work together to ensure that, if the program is effective, it can continue operating after the grant ends. I was a little disappointed that the report didn't touch upon sustainability as part of grant making effectiveness. To me, the two should go hand-in-hand; if a foundation is willing to make the commitment to a 3-4 year grant, then the grantee should have a sustainability plan ready for when that grant ends. And I'm not just talking financial but also sustainable impact on the community being served, such as through grant making for policy change.
So, does your grant leave the grantee ready to continue its good work when your funding ends or is the organization scrambling for more funding a year before the grant's over? Will the impact of the funded activity last beyond the foundation's financial commitment? Do your grants last longer than a McDonald's hamburger?
PS: Click here if you're curious about the 12-year old hamburger. I haven't eaten one since...