[CROSS-POST] 4th Digital Principle: Build a sustainable project

This blog was originally posted on the Soldevelo website on September 2, 2019.

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Creating a sustainable project is probably one of the hardest things to achieve by a nonprofit organization. Usually funding acquired from different sources is devoted toward one, clear goal. It has to be achieved by the end. You create a project, get funding for it, turn your idea into a reality and write the report about it. If this project worked as it should, you can apply once again to the founder next year to do the next edition of it. Usually, only bigger organizations can afford to have continuous projects that are sustainable and can last for years.

But this doesn’t have to be the reality for all of the smaller organizations. Plan your project accordingly and prepare it in the right way. Then there is a lot more chance for it to become sustainable and longlasting.

Basic rules for a sustainable project

If you really want your project to last years and years after it starts, you have to prepare it that way. Make the long term plan from the start. Identify, what business model (even if you are working for non-profit) will be the best for it. Even if your projects are purely non-profit, still think about them how the commercial initiative would do. If you find a way to finance it in a stable way, you will be able to help more people in a more effective way. Projects with years become more refined and better. If you will be able to get to that stage, your help will have a long-term impact. Change something for years, not only for a short initiative, that couldn’t sustain itself.

As a nonprofit you have one enormous advantage over the commercial products. You don’t have to compete with anyone, in the most basic sense. Thanks to this, you can join as many collaborations as you want. Learn from the Open-Source initiatives and build the community around you and your project. Thanks to this you will always have opinions from outside, that can greatly improve anything you want to do. The energy of the community and the collective experience of it could really change your approach of how you do your projects.

And most importantly: be agile and adaptive. The reality around you changes and so should you and your idea. A project is only as good, as it can adapt to the new situations. Don’t let it stop on the first hurdle. If you know how to change to the environment you have a better chance to make your project longlasting.

Analyze and plan

If you want to make your project “sustainable” first you must know what does it means in the context of your work. Work with your team to establish want do you all understand by this term. Start working on it, from the start of the project. Also, think immediately, is there any partner organization, that can help you with this task. Identify cooperation, but also potential funding not only for the start of the project but also after the first stage of it. Be aware that cost can change with time and with scaling. Some elements can become cheaper, some will need more resources. Long-time projects are living organisms that are evolving constantly.

Develop and design

Remember, that every major choice you do in the project can affect its sustainability. Be sure, that you think about this before you make a step in a direction, that could end your vision earlier that you’d like. If your idea has an international reach, think about using the local services. In one hand, thanks to this, you will be able to join the local community earlier that way. On the other, usually, this is a much cheaper solution. Usually, there will be an already existing community around the topic you want to do in your project. Consult with it regularly. Their experience and knowledge will help your idea to last longer.

Deploy and implement

Even if you identified potential sources to sustain the initiative during the design stage, do it also during the project itself. With working on your idea in the real world, new opportunities should reveal themselves. Be sure to answer them accordingly. Designing the project isn’t a job that is really ever done. During the implementation, review what is working and what is not. Listening to the target community you want to work with should be the best way to do this.

Monitor and evaluate

After the first stage of your project, it is incredibly important to measure everything you did. Information is power. More data you collect, the more you can do in the future. Analyze what progress was done and what you can do to sustain it. Or if you see that your idea isn’t working or there isn’t enough interest from your audience – think about ending it. Don’t be afraid of bold decisions. Work only on things that could bring a lot of progress to the communities you want to work for.

The financial side of the projects always will be one of the most important aspects. Calculate what was the cost of your idea per one person of your target audience. Compare it to the other, similar solutions. But most importantly – calculate the impact. Did you do what you wanted to do? How much did it cost to change the situation the way you did? If the data shows, that your project really did it’s work and wasn’t that costly comparingly to the other solutions, you shouldn’t have problems with finding the sources of funding to continue this initiative. People and founders love successes. Many people are want to join them. Use this, to bring additional resources and develop your idea further. Help people not just for a short time, but for even years and years to come.

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