Over the last few years no application for funding/income is absent of the word ‘sustainable’. ‘How will you sustain your project?’ they ask.
And over the last few years I’ve moved my thinking on this. There’s no doubt that you don’t have to scale to increase your impact. But do you have to be scale to become sustainable?
I used to trot out the line that success would mean we go out of business – because homelessness is solved. Of course that’s trite and not within our gift. As a true believer in equality I’d also like to see interventions like ours embedded in the community and not driven by people like me from outside.
So I shall happily contradict my naive former self. Assuming that for my lifetime at least there will be children in care, people in prison, people on low incomes and housing still a challenge for many, we can assume our service will be needed. And I’m not afraid to say that it should have certain expertises, expectations, levels of quality and outcomes that require certain levels of investment. As such it should be run as a separate entity (albeit more embedded in the community and including the people it serves).
All of this costs real money. Traditional restricted funding is short-term, output driven and offers little support for sustainability. With almost no infrastructure support funders expect us to become ‘sustainable’ beyond the life of the funding whilst delivering their outputs and reports.
Delivering the project and designing a new sustainable one are two separate projects. And yet only one gets the funding. So if you wonder why I work long hours, it’s because all the additional projects to get sustainable have to happen outside the funding envelope.
With scale comes sustainability in the form of a back office, people to share ideas and generate income, business continuity and a better response for our customers. Getting there alone is the harder part.