Chapter Two presented the research on characteristics that facilitate effective development and operations for community coalitions. For the same reasons, many of those factors also contribute to the sustainability of community coalitions, their capacities, and benefits over time. The literature revealed the following characteristics as important predictors of sustainability in community coalitions: leadership, membership diversity, history of collaboration, structure, resource diversity, sustainability plans, and community buy-in. This section discusses why each of these characteristics is related to sustainability in community coalitions.
Focused and effective leadership facilitates sustainability in community coalitions (Goodman et al., 1998; Leviton, Herrera, Pepper, Fishman, & Racine, 2006; Mancini & Marek, 2004). The Alexander et al. (2006) study of community coalitions found that coalitions with a high potential for sustainability invested significant resources in ensuring that the coalition had effective leadership and staffing. The study also found that continuity of leadership over time helps to facilitate sustainability. Butterfoss (2007) also indicates that sustainability is facilitated by core leadership with a strong commitment to the coalition.
Researchers have noted that community coalitions that engage members of the community in the coalition—including policymakers, business professionals, residents, consumers, and beneficiaries—are more likely to continue to grow over time (Feinberg et al., 2008; Wolff, 2001). Involving a variety of community sectors can enhance the sustainability of the collaborative (Rog et al., 2004).
History of Collaboration
Coalitions that have a history of working together are more likely to survive post-funding than coalitions that come together for the purpose of obtaining a grant. Leviton et al. (2006) surveyed 787 Faith in Action2 community coalitions and found that programs that were serving clients prior to receiving the grant were significantly more likely to survive (91 percent) than programs that did not exist prior to the grant (84 percent) (p<0.05). Rog et al. (2004) also found that violence prevention coalitions that had a history of collaboration prior to the grant appeared to be more likely to continue post-grant. Forming a collaborative prior to the funding opportunity was viewed as a proxy for commitment in this study.
Clear operational guidelines, and program management policies and procedures have been identified as key predictors of sustainability in community coalitions (Butterfoss, 2007; Feinberg et al., 2008; Leviton et al., 2006; Lodl & Stevens, 2002). In the Feinberg et al. (2008) study of Communities That Care coalitions, the researchers found that board functioning, as reported by board members and technical assistance providers, was positively associated with the survival of the coalition. Additionally, board functioning was positively associated with the number of funding sources and the amount of the coalition’s funding post-grant.
Research also suggests that the composition of a collaborative’s steering committee or board is associated with sustainability. The Rog et al. (2004) study of violence prevention community coalitions found that the one variable that distinguished the three collaboratives that were expanding from others that were not was the composition of their steering committee. The most successful collaborative had a board with a professional-grassroots mix in the structure. This finding is also supported by the national HCAP evaluation (NORC, 2007), whereby HCAP consortia reported that building a membership with broad-based grassroots participation was important for the sustainability of the coalition’s activities. The Leviton et al. (2006) study identified quantitative links between sustainability and capacity in 787 Faith in Action community coalitions, concluding that survival of the organizations was associated with characteristics such as an active governing body.
Funding diversity is a key predictor of sustainability in community coalitions (Butterfoss, 2007), and in organizations more generally (Leviton et al., 2006; Rog et al., 2004). Programs are more likely to survive when they have political, financial, and institutional resources (Feinberg et al., 2008). Resources include money, people, goods, and services. Funds can be obtained from membership dues, the lead agency, community donations, financial partners, and in-kind contributions, grants, and contracts (Butterfoss, 2007). Diverse funding reduces the imbalance in power that occurs when a single funder is controlling the coalition’s budget. With multiple funding sources, the coalition can ensure that it is fulfilling its own goals, as well as funders’ requirements.
Two studies in particular demonstrate that resource diversity contributes to sustainability in community coalitions. Leviton et al. (2006) found that the size of the budget (at least $25,000 per year) and funding diversity (resources from at least three different community organizations) was associated with program survival. In another study, Rog et al. (2004) found that the community coalitions with diverse funding portfolios were expanding into new areas or becoming institutionalized in the community. Rog et al. found that funding should be flexible enough to support the core activities of the collaborative—rather than earmarked for specific programmatic activities that are carried out by the collaborative (e.g., service delivery).
Moving sustainability from a goal to a reality requires creating goals and objectives, developing and implementing sustainability strategies, and continuously evaluating those strategies (Shediac-Rizkallah & Bone, 1998). Developing a comprehensive sustainability plan at the outset is critical to a coalition’s success (Friedman & Wicklund, 2006). Program results, strategic funding, and staff involvement and integration are also related to planning early for sustainability (Mancini & Marek, 2004).
Butterfoss (2007) notes that coalitions that are widely respected in their communities are more likely to continue. With community buy-in, the collaborative opens itself up to a number of new resources and funding opportunities. Additionally, community buy-in helps the collaborative to better position itself to achieve goals in the future (Rog et al., 2004). Lodl and Stevens (2001) highlights the importance of community buy-in to coalition sustainability. They found that inactive coalitions reported a lack of community interest in coalition activities.