Sustainability – Looking Beyond Federal Funding
Last week, I had a generational difference moment during the week’s Grant Chat – using virtual reality as a method of communicating and demonstrating grant recipient performance. Not only was I searching for the tools called out by my colleagues (Fyuse, anyone?), but I also was struck by the thought that staying current with technology options is one aspect to sustaining an organization’s mission and projects.
But maybe not the most important aspect for a grant-funded organization.
During the past few months, I’ve seen and heard more people asking about project sustainability. I see this as a natural outcome of increased competition for Federal funds, uncertainty in the Federal budget process, and recognition that grants can and do end.
So where to begin? Let’s start with the concept that project sustainability ties to performance.
Thanks to 2 CFR 200, FAPIIS, and SAM.gov, we now live in a Federal grants world where consideration of past performance is the expectation. Non-Federal Entities (NFE) that want to continue to seek and receive Federal grants therefore need to (continue to) apply all of their grants management and administration know-how on a regular basis. This includes managing a project’s schedule, scope, and cost as well as submitting financial and performance reports on time and accurately.
Fortunately, demonstration of good performance for a Federal grant can be used as “evidence” when seeking non-Federal funding.
At the same time, NFEs should build sustainment into their internal grants processes. For example, a university could add sustainment elements to their internal review criteria when considering which applications and projects to submit for Federal funding. This would force the primary investigator or applicant to think about their long-term prospects and plans for their project or effort. Consider this the change from “if” to “when” Federal funding streams will end.
I also recommend expanding a project’s scope beyond the parameters of a Federal grant award to include things like:
- Stakeholders representing future budget streams (ex. Operating Budget Office)
- Documented risks for activities without sustainment funds and resources
- Milestones for budget transfer and fundraising goals
For instance, when a fire department is applying for a new cache of radios based on the current state-of-the-art technology, it needs to factor in the anticipated maintenance and operations that are often ineligible for Federal funds. Does the department have support from their city council to use tax dollars to cover those costs? What about making sure the new equipment is interoperable with the 5-year-old 911 system? Can virtual reality capabilities be added to the radios? Is the equipment usable if funding for maintenance and operations doesn’t come to fruition?
Of course, finding and applying for additional sources of revenue takes a lot of time and effort. For instance, 93% of respondents to the Spring 2016 State of GrantseekingTM Survey received one award when submitting at least three applications. That means that NFEs need to include their leadership to:
- Educate their governing bodies on their institutional long-term needs and goals with aggregated information on funding, performance, and risk
- Reinforce understanding that Federal funding is discretionary
- Build capacity to find, secure, and manage new funding streams
This is only a start on ways NFEs can improve how they factor in long-term project sustainability. Please share your success stories in the comment section.