Sustainability is contingent on the power of creative thinking.
– Gerri Russell
Once your shared site has been operating for a while, it is important to think about how to sustain it over time. How can you ensure that you will be able to meet your expenses as you move forward? Is your staffing structure adequate for implementing your programs and services? How strong are your current internal and external partnerships?
Developing a sustainability plan involves examining your goals, relationships, practices, and procedures. It is an ongoing process, not a one-time activity. It requires careful financial planning, continuous fundraising, ongoing marketing, and the nurturing of internal and external champions. The following are some strategies that might be helpful.
9.1 Deepening Internal Commitment and Support
As you move forward, it is important to ask your Board of Directors to use their personal and professional connections to help support your center. Keep them updated on what is happening at your site and invite them to stop by on a regular basis. Strengthening your Board’s level of commitment is a critical element of sustainability.
Ensuring that administrators and staff are totally on board with your model is also essential. Ongoing training for ALL staff in intergenerational best practices and the engagement of staff in planning efforts are key strategies for deepening their commitment. A powerful way of promoting sustainability is to build the leadership skills of staff to take on increasing responsibilities.
9.2 Enhancing Collaboration Among Internal and External Partners
The level of collaboration across departments or between your site and external partners is critical for success. Inherent in the idea of a shared site is building strong intergenerational relationships on ALL levels—between leaders and staff of programs serving children and older adults as well as among the participants themselves. After you have been in operation for some time, take a look at the nature of your relationships. Are there clear expectations for each partner? Are you meeting on a regular basis to plan and assess your programming? Are you working together to address problems? You may need to make some changes to ensure that you have created a culture of collaboration and/or you may want to expand your partners. These decisions can impact the quality of your current services and programs and inform how you want to grow your site.
9.3 Cultivating Champions Among Elected Officials and Policymakers
Elected officials have the potential to support efforts that encourage intergenerational shared sites and remove barriers that exist. Invite elected officials and policymakers to learn more about your important work through site visits, meetings with staff, and ongoing communications. Generations United has tools to help in planning a visit with members of Congress and elected state officials. It includes suggested talking points when discussing the benefits of shared sites with elected officials.
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9.4 Preparing for Leadership and Staff Turnover
Turnover is one of the biggest risks to sustainability. When key administrators and/or staff leave your organization, things can fall apart. Make sure you continuously document your work to better facilitate turnover. For example:
- Make copies of partnership agreements
- Update job descriptions of key administrators and staff to include major roles and responsibilities
- Compile and continually update intergenerational activity plans. Make them accessible to all staff responsible for programming
- Organize assessment tools and describe evaluation protocol
9.5 Expanding Public Relations and Marketing Efforts
Raising your visibility as a key resource for older adults and children is a critical component of your sustainability plan. This involves getting media coverage, using a variety of social media platforms to share accomplishments, distributing high-quality promotional materials, and serving on community task forces/committees. It is important to build strong connections with organizations in the child-care, aging, and education networks so that they will continue to serve as referral sources for you. Work closely with your Admissions and Marketing staff to make sure they promote the intergenerational aspects of your program to area hospitals and families. Review the Marketing section of this Toolkit for concrete ideas on marketing.
9.6 Building your Volunteer Base
Volunteers cannot replace staff, but they can provide significant support to your shared site. Strengthening relationships with colleges and universities is particularly important. Students in the health professions, education, social work, and the arts can help provide direct services and engage participants in high-quality activities. Consider hiring a Volunteer Coordinator who can support ongoing partnerships and ensure that volunteer opportunities are meaningful.
Although there are some shared sites that are funded internally (e.g., nursing homes, retirement communities), the majority of sites will have to engage in ongoing fundraising efforts to sustain themselves. Diversifying your revenue is a critical fundraising strategy. Many sites get the majority of their funding from day care fees and/or reimbursement for adult day care. Sometimes, one program component may have to subsidize the other. This funding, however, does not always cover all operational expenses and funding levels are subject to change. It is necessary to continually update your fundraising plan by identifying additional government and foundation sources as well as individual donors (see Fundraising section of this Toolkit). In particular, you might want to explore grants or individual contributions that can support general operations. Fee-generating activities and special events are also important due to their flexibility. Review the Funding section of this Toolkit for ideas on fundraising.