Essential Features of Nonprofit Sustainability: Towards Clarity for Grants Professionals

Author: William Moore, PhD, The Strategy Group


Sustainability for nonprofit professionals is a vaguely defined and misunderstood concept, often described by proposal authors as securing sufficient funding to maintain programmatic or organizational operations. Recent attempts to define and identify key features of sustainability have contributed to a richer understanding of the complexity of sustainability and the factors that influence longevity and potential for impact. This article offers the perspective that financial stability is a necessary but insufficient condition for organizational sustainability: other factors are essential for long-term stability and impact. Well-regarded models of sustainability go beyond effective management and engaged boards to include dimensions such as adaptive capacity, innovation, and other practices. In short, sustainability is the result of a complex interplay of many interdependent practices, behaviors, and decisions. This article synthesizes the dominant characterizations and features of sustainability and presents several common dimensions. Grant professionals, nonprofit leaders, and stakeholders can examine these key dimensions of sustainability, use the provided rating scales to assess their own organizational status, and plan for future internal capacity building.