The concept of sustainability is germane to research on both community-based programs and community coalitions. However, a consensus definition of sustainability has not emerged in either body of research. The primary divergence among definitions in both bodies of literature relates to the unit of analysis—what is being sustained. Some definitions focus on sustaining the program or coalition, while others focus on sustaining the activities and impacts of the program or coalition.
Researchers have developed conceptual models and frameworks to define sustainability in the context of community coalitions. Six conceptual models and frameworks have shaped the literature on the sustainability of community coalitions, offering unique ways to measure the sustainability of the coalitions and their benefits to the communities they serve. Collectively, the models demonstrate the importance of measuring both the sustainability of the coalition and the coalition’s activities separately. The models also highlight different coalition-specific and contextual factors that affect sustainability. Many of the same factors that contribute to the effectiveness and functionality of community coalitions also facilitate their outcomes, impacts, and sustainability.
Several important predictors of sustainability in community coalitions are leadership, membership diversity, history of collaboration, structure, resource diversity, sustainability plans, and community buy-in. Barriers to sustainability include governance challenges, structural issues, a lack of funding for core operations, turf battles, leader and member turnover, and shifting priorities.