Ensure Sustainability

Sharing your program results with partners, funders, and other community stakeholders is fundamental to maintain existing relationships, attract support and buy-in from your community, and thereby ensure your program’s long-term sustainability. You can explore several other sustainability strategies, as well—either individually or in parallel with each other—to ensure your program’s continued presence and growth in your community. You might, for instance, choose to develop your value proposition, a presentation of your program’s worth, to secure a contract with a health care entity, apply for traditional grant funding, share resources with another organization, or develop a fee-for-service structure, depending on your program’s unique circumstances.

Three primary steps for ensuring the sustainability of your program comprise the following.

  1. Seek continued funding sources
  2. Establish strategic partnerships
  3. Develop key messages

Seek Continued Funding Sources

  • Apply for grants (public or private) and public funding appropriated from state or local legislators. Pay special attention to grants from local foundations or trusts requiring that the funds to be spent in your community.
  • Contract with health care entities—such as managed care organizations, accountable care organizations, and person-centered medical homes—invested in your community. Emphasize how oral health can affect overall health as well as health care use and cost in your community.
  • Seek in-kind support from your organization or community. Donated goods and free services from volunteers and students are valuable assets for a community oral health program.
  • Organize fundraisers to solicit money in your community. Fundraisers might include charging money for a product, a service, or an event, whereas others could include hosting dinners with wealthy guests to attract large donations.
  • Develop a fee-for-service structure that requires clients to pay for the care they receive. Your program could
    • Offer services on a sliding fee scale (i.e., reduced prices for people with lower incomes),
    • Offer some services free, or
    • Charge but require additional payment for other services.
  • You might also consider creating a discount dental payment plan, where clients pay an annual membership fee and receive discounts on services provided.
  • Secure funding through an endowment, a planned giving arrangement, or a deferred gift. An endowment is a monetary gift invested on the program’s behalf and the interest of which may be used as operating income. A planned giving arrangement is a donation acquired through wills, trusts, and other forms of wealth, whereas a deferred gift is an arrangement that becomes available to the program at a future date (e.g., at the donor’s death).

“There is a category of funders that are not necessarily thinking of oral health as a health issue. Tell them it is related to health. If they’re concerned about overall wellness, they should be concerned about oral health, too.” - Dr. Vyan Nguyen, Gary and Mary West Foundation

Establish Strategic Partnerships

  • Gather input from key stakeholders (e.g., current funders, staff, volunteers, clients) on potential sustainability strategies and how they align with your vision, mission, and goals. For examples of potential sustainability strategies, see Chapter 46 in the University of Kansas’s Community Tool Box.
  • Adopt a multipronged approach, and attract funding from a variety of different sources, reducing the risk of the program’s ending if one funding source dries up.
  • Leverage existing resources and skills, either within your organization or among partners. For example, tap people with grant writing skills to prepare grant applications, or use people with experience working with state legislators to attract state funding.
  • Consider sharing resources, such as facility space, dental equipment, or staff (e.g., paid employees, volunteers, students), with another organization, or become a line item in the existing budget of a larger organization or entity. See the University of Kansas’s Community Tool Box for more information on becoming a line item in an existing budget.

Develop Key Messages

  • Identify all potential audiences that might care about your program’s results, including community entities that aren’t directly concerned with oral health (e.g., media outlets, local hospitals). Find out what matters to your audience or audiences and how they’ll use your key message or success story.
  • Develop a success story that moves beyond the numbers to connect with your audience. Demonstrate through imagery and consistent messaging how your program has improved the lives of older adults in your community. The CDC’s success story workbook (PDF) shares tips on collecting information for success stories.
  • Create a story to which your audience can relate, one free of jargon (e.g., using the term “tooth decay” instead of “caries”). Consider developing multiple versions of the same anecdote tailored to specific audiences.
  • Display real pictures and quotations to reinforce the message; use bullets to highlight main points, such as significant achievements or lessons learned.
  • Follow an effective success story outline:
    • Create a title that captures the reader’s attention;
    • Define the problem in your community;
    • Describe what your program offers;
    • Summarize your program’s positive results;
    • Describe what the audience can do to help; and
    • Provide contact information.
  • Choose different formats or communication mediums for your message. Consider a
    • Paragraph spotlight to fill last-minute news holes,
    • Succinct one-pager to capture policymakers and funders’ attention,
    • Full brief with data summaries and anecdotes,
    • Published journal article, or
    • Any combination of these formats.
  • Consider using social media (PDF) as a strategy to reach more audiences, as described by the CDC. See page 6 of the CDC’s Impact and Value: Telling your Program’s Story (PDF) for more information.
  • Decide which communication channels you’ll use to disseminate your key messages. Possibilities include articles written for local newspapers or professional journals, conference presentations, a website, or any combination of these prominent channels.
  • Consider writing a press release to share your program findings. See the University of Kansas’s Community Tool Box, Chapter 6.3, for guidance on developing a press release and for a press release template.

Program Spotlight: West Virginia Health Right

West Virginia Health Right’s dental clinic opened in 2001, when a group of community leaders approached the West Virginia Health Right medical center, citing the need for oral health care in the community. This case study provides additional information on how to sustain a program based on the experiences of this clinic.

TThrough careful planning and consistent applications submitted every year, the dental clinic achieved sustainability with funding from more than 50 grants. The clinic tracks many client health and use metrics to demonstrate to funders the program’s effects and cost savings. The program also emphasizes that gaining buy-in from local businesses, such as hospitals, which have an economic or social stake in older adults’ oral health is critical to securing consistent funding.

In addition, volunteerism, the program insists, accounts largely for its sustainability. Without these volunteers, the clinic wouldn’t be able to operate because most of the program funding is used to pay for equipment and supplies. To keep volunteers engaged, the clinic mails a quarterly newsletter with client success stories, hosts volunteer appreciation events with awards ceremonies, and sends personally written birthday cards from the CEO. The clinic also maintains an informal policy of placing volunteer dental staff’s needs and interests above everything else in its day-to-day operations. This policy includes transcribing electronic health records into paper-based records for dentists who prefer the latter and coaching clients to voice concerns directly to the program staff rather than to the dentists.

Through planned and routine applications to public and private payers, as well as deliberate relationship-building with volunteers, West Virginia Health Right’s dental clinic has built a sustainable oral health program in the community.

Key Resources

The resources listed below provide additional guidance and support for sustaining your program.

  1. University of Kansas’s Community Tool Box, Chapters 39, 42–46 – The selected chapters in this toolbox focus on communicating information to funders for support, securing financial resources, and planning for sustainability.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Impact and Value: Telling Your Program’s Story (PDF) – This guidance document focuses specifically on effective strategies for telling your program’s success story, including detailed information on the format, outline, and development of a success story to disseminate findings and market your program.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Success Story Development Guide (DOCX) – This resource includes a success story template and tips on how to create a success story.
  4. Rural Health Information Hub’s Oral Health Toolkit, Module 6: Dissemination of Rural Oral Health Resources and Promising Practices – Module 6 of this toolkit provides tips for sharing resources and promising practices from oral health programs. The website summarizes common methods for doing so and offers general tips for communicating your program’s success.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s A Sustainability Planning Guide for Healthy Communities (PDF) – This comprehensive 120-page planning guide was designed to help health community coalitions develop sustainable solutions for achieving healthy communities. The guide describes sustainability as it relates to both funding and maximizing other resources, policies, and networks in the community.
  6. Asset-Based Community Development Institute’s Discovering Community Power: A Guide to Mobilizing Local Assets and Your Organization’s Capacity (PDF) – This interactive guide helps organizations enhance their connections with community assets and strengthen current and future community-based projects, activities, and proposals.
  7. W.G. Kellogg Foundation: Template for Strategic Communications Plan – This template outlines the main elements of a strategic communications plan, leaving room for communities to enter information and form their plan.
  8. Consulting Services for Community Solutions’ Sample Sustainability Action Plan (PDF) – This sustainability action plan, featuring a timeline, outlines steps that organizations can take to sustain their intervention.
  9. University of Kansas’s Community Tool Box, Chapter 6: Preparing Press Releases – This resource provides a sample press release and a template for writing a press release.