Sustaining Systems Change and Infrastructure

Programs that improve infrastructure, systems, processes, or laws are a great investment of grant funding. Like a renewable energy source, once the improvements are in place, we expect them to deliver results long after the grant funding ends.

“A new ordinance prohibiting recyclables in the landfill will yield benefits well beyond the two-year period it took to get that mandate on the books,” said Barbara Floersch, chief of Training & Curriculum of The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. “But, take care. Even though ongoing impact is part and parcel of systems change, don’t ignore the sustainability question in your grant proposal.”

Laws, regulations, and ordinances aren’t always carried out as intended. When discussing how you’ll maintain impact beyond grant funding, explain how implementation will be monitored. Who’ll take the lead? If ongoing monitoring will require resources, where will they come from?

A grant-funded process to plan a response to a complex community problem will result in a blueprint for progress — an action plan. But If that plan gathers dust while the problem persists, the grant funds were wasted. Provide an idea of how the plan will be brought to life. Maybe the grantee organization will coordinate next steps. Maybe the city, school, and hospital will form a coalition to operationalize the plan. A planning grant is an investment in future action. Funders need confidence that the action will take place.

A new computer lab can be an ongoing community asset. But if the equipment isn’t maintained it will quickly fall into disrepair. And if equipment isn’t updated regularly, the value of the lab will soon be diminished. Explain how you’ll protect the initial investment. Who’ll monitor and maintain the equipment? What security will you put in place? What’s the equipment replacement plan?

If grant funds will contribute to the replacement of an old, inefficient building that’s expensive to maintain, you can probably document that your existing budget will easily carry the expense of maintaining the new facility. But if you’re adding a new building to your campus, how will you handle the additional maintenance and repair costs?

Failing to answer the sustainability question is a common mistake in grant requests for systems change or infrastructure improvements. “Avoid done-and-done thinking in these sorts of grants,” advised Floersch. “Realistically, we all know from experience that our plans require action, our homes require maintenance, and if we want something done, we need to stay on top of the process.” © Copyright 2019 The Grantsmanship Center.