The TCC Group, based on an analysis of over 700 organizations, has identified specific attributes essential to sustainability. These attributes, outlined in Section C, SUSTAIN, include visionary leadership, fundraising and financial management, managing and delivering high-quality services and strategic planning and evaluation. For example, organizations with strong leaders who apply a mission-centered, inclusive and a clear vision are “significantly more sustainable than those do that not.”

It’s not surprising that fundraising and resource management also predict much of the difference between sustainable and unsustainable organizations. Sustainable organizations know how to maintain high-quality control, and organizations that engage in ongoing strategic planning and evaluation by collecting and using high-quality data to inform implementation efforts are “significantly” more sustainable than those that do not.


Support Visionary Leadership

Organizations with strong leaders who apply a mission-centered approach and set forth a clear vision are “significantly more sustainable than those do that not.”

Network leaders can follow three key steps to adopt a visionary-leadership style:

  1. Establish and communicate a clear mission and vision: Visionary leaders not only drive the development of an organization’s mission and vision statement, which alone is not enough to result in sustainability, but they communicate it successfully and compellingly to key stakeholders, including staff, board leaders, stakeholders, constituents and donors. Organizational leaders should connect with and be motivated by the common mission and vision. They should be able to convince staff that there are real consequences for individuals, groups and the community if they do no succeed.
  2. Share success and failure: Sustainable leadership means sharing equally in the rewards of successful efforts and in the negative consequences of less successful ones. Network leaders face distinct challenges in their leadership and funding. Collective impact efforts can only be sustained if the backbone is led by an individual with adaptive leadership skills and the ability to mobilize people without imposing a predetermined agenda or claiming credit for success. Network leaders must strike a delicate balance between the strong leadership needed to keep all parties together and the “behind the scenes” role that lets other stakeholders share ownership of the initiative’s success.
  3. Make cost-effective decisions: Successful leaders must make decisions that stakeholders agree are “cost-effective.” For leadership to produce results, decisions must be made on two factors: 1) the cost of services on a per person basis and 2) measures of effectiveness which define success through outcomes and behavior changes for those served.

Fundraise and Manage Resources

Not surprising, fundraising, which is the ability to develop the necessary resources for efficient operations, and resource management predict much of the difference between sustainable and unsustainable organizations.

Networks can follow five key steps to successfully fundraise and manage resources:

  1. Build capacity to raise funds: Organizations that have the capacity to raise funds from a diverse group of institutional funders such as private foundations, corporations and/or government agencies are more sustainable.
  2. Foster long-term funder relationships: Sustainable organizations know how to build and maintain long-term relationships with funders. This means that organizational leaders connect with funders and share results that help inspire long-term commitments.
  3. Engage the board: The board of an organization must be actively, intentionally and formally engaged in persuading others in the community to invest time, money and other resources in the organization.
  4. Manage resources: Organizations that effectively manage resources are more sustainable. This is an achievement that organizations can share with donors and grantmakers, resulting in stronger long-term relationships.
  5. Track trends: Sustainable organizations are intentional about remaining informed of local, regional and national trends that affect funding.

Deliver High-Quality Services

Sustainable organizations know how to maintain high-quality control through effective program management.

Networks can follow two key steps to deliver high-quality services:

  1. Cultivate effective managers: Sustainable organizations have effective managers who take quick and decisive action when program quality or quantity is reduced or compromised, including making critical staffing decisions.
  2. Secure adequate resources and facilities: The organizations differentiate themselves by having adequate resources and facilities to deliver their services. 

Engage in Ongoing Strategic Planning and Evaluation

Put simply, organizations that collect and use high-quality data from program evaluation and gather stakeholder input for planning and strategy implementation efforts are “significantly” more sustainable than those that do not.

Networks can follow three key steps to engage in ongoing strategic planning and evaluation:

  1. Learn from data: Sustainable organizations do not just collect the data. Their leaders actively bring it to the planning table, spend time reviewing and explaining it and draw conclusions about what worked and what did not work. Leaders from sustainable organizations ground strategic planning in the lessons learned from the successes and failures of core program strategies.
  2. Follow a clear strategic plan: Sustainable organizations are driven by clear objectives, goals, strategies and tactics, which embody the strategic plan.
  3. Adapt strategy as necessary: Sustainable organizations assess and correct their strategic plans to achieve success through measurable changes in client outcomes and program effectiveness – not from the standpoint of increasing operating budgets, financial stability or even sustainability.


Alan Tuck and Nan Stone, National Networks: Planning can align a national network for full impact, The Bridgespan Group (2007)

Fay Hanleybrown et al., “Channeling Change: Making Collective Impact Work,” Stanford Social Innovation Review (2012)

Peter York, The Sustainability Formula: How Nonprofit Organizations Can Thrive in the Emerging Economy, TCC Group

Shiloh Turner et al., “Understanding the Value of Backbone Organizations in Collective Impact: Part 2,” Stanford Social Innovation Review (2012)