Community coalitions face a number of barriers that impede their sustainability. Key challenges related to coalition structure, governance, and funding are briefly discussed in this section.
Structure of Coalitions
Several of the key barriers to sustainability that are discussed in the literature are inherent to the structure of community coalitions. Namely, coalitions are composed of different types of organizations that come together voluntarily to achieve a goal. Alexander et al. (2003) noted that partnerships that comprise community coalitions are loosely bound, and there are few barriers to exiting the coalition—making sustainability more difficult. Leviton et al. (2006) also found that it is difficult to achieve sustainability given the loose coalition of organizations, the low level of funding, and the voluntary nature of the program. Second, coalitions are comprised of a number of different groups with divergent structures and work cultures—and thus, it is difficult to build and maintain a working partnership. In an analysis of the dynamics of four partnerships and their potential for sustainability, Alexander et al. (2003) found that member organizations struggled to balance their time and commitment between the coalition and their home organization, which affected the long-term sustainability of the coalition.
In community coalitions, governance is the activity of decision-making. Community coalitions often form steering committees or boards to make strategic decisions about coalition operations. Governance challenges occur when the responsibilities of the steering committee are not clearly defined, or when the steering committee overrides the rights of individual members (Butterfoss, 2007). Community coalitions that experience persistent governance challenges have difficulty sustaining themselves over time. The Rog et al. (2004) study of the community coalitions through the National Funding Collaborative on Violence Prevention found that all of the coalitions that were no longer in operation had experienced governance challenges. Specifically, these coalitions struggled with role clarity between the responsibilities of coalition staff versus their steering committee. Findings from the national HCAP evaluation also illustrate the need for establishing memorandums of understanding that clarify the roles and responsibilities of all entities involved in the collaborative (NORC, 2007).
Lack of Funding for Core Coalition Operations
Community coalitions may not be sustainable if the only resources available to them are program or project dollars that are earmarked for service delivery or specific program activities. Cutler (2002) notes that the sustainability challenge for community-based initiatives is identifying resources that can be used to convene members, hire staff, build collaborative capacity, and plan for the future. It is often difficult for coalitions to find public and private funders that are willing to support core operations—especially if funders want to demonstrate causality between their investments and specific positive outcomes in the community. Coalitions may be successful in securing funding or resources for operations through highly invested anchor institutions (universities, academic medical centers, etc.), as such institutions play an important role in building successful communities (Webber & Karlström, 2009).
There are other challenges to sustainability that are inherent to community coalitions. According to Feinberg et al. (2008), such challenges include turf battles, leader and member turnover, and shifting coalition priorities.
Chapter Four summarized the current issues in the literature surrounding the sustainability of community coalitions. This chapter included a discussion of different definitions of sustainability in the context of programs and community coalitions and an overview of conceptual models and frameworks that have shaped the sustainability literature. A discussion of sustainability measures and the role of evaluation, as well as an overview of the predictors of and barriers to sustainability was also included. Chapter Five uses the information collected through the literature review to provide a conceptual framework for assessing the sustainability of community coalitions once initial federal funding has ended.