Sustainable Program Design: Sustainability

In order to sustain your program long-term, profit or non-profit, you need a business model that articulates a dependable, predictable revenue engine. I encounter many clients who state, “I’m not doing this for the money.” I often counter, “But, bills are only paid with money.” I understand that money is not your driving force. Revenue is not your mission. This does not mean that you rely on grants and donations as a business model. Your business, profit or non-profit, must produce a product that at once yields revenue AND supports the efficacy of your brand. In social enterprises, the product also must be appropriate to the problem and support the impact desired over time.

I have identified four typical responses to social problems. Each can signal a certain opportunity for product creation. These products then create the potential for consistent revenue for the sustaining of the social enterprise. Each has a different cycle of return, short-term or long-term. A sustainable program design will incorporate all or a majority of these responses.

Delphi Model Construction
Delphi Model Construction


Model construction is a response that defines a strategy for addressing a problem. The model can be assembled through at least two techniques domain of content analysis or Delphi technique. Domain of content analysis or simple “content analysis” is performed by reviewing available data in the form of reports, pictures, or articles. Delphi technique is performed by contacting and engaging with a group of experts.

Model construction results in a theoretical framework that is useful in creating practice models. These practice models can be used to create outputs that offer returns in the short-term. Examples of outputs may include manuals, workbooks, training videos, or seminar outlines.

The Research Cycle


Research provides a practice wisdom or empirical support for your program. Practice wisdom is the result of observations and coding of applied knowledge. Empirical findings are the result of experiments and statistical analysis.

Research evidence is the output of the research response. Research evidence can be used to create long-term returns in the form of articles and new program designs. It can also be used to create shorter-term returns like grant proposals, course materials, or books.


Evaluation is response that determines needs, monitors progress, or observes outcomes. Needs assessments are typically performed prior to implementation of a program. Monitoring evaluations can either be formative or process mapping. Outcome evaluations are often called summative evaluations.

Outputs from evaluations may include an annual report, stakeholder identification, or a fundraising plan. These are key components to a long-term strategy of engaging donors, partners, and supporters. Donors are stakeholders that will make investments in your social enterprise. Partners are businesses who will connect with you to leverage resources. Supporters are influential community figures, politicians, and leaders who will write support letters, provide pro-bono products and services, and engage others on behalf of your social enterprise.

A Control System
A Control System


Decision analysis can be considered a combines model construction, intervention research and evaluation. Its purpose is to demonstrate the efficacy of a plan of action. In the case of a social enterprise, decision analysis can offer verifiable data that a program is viable, valid, and sustainable.

Outputs from a decision analysis may include an operational model or a community plan. An operational model is the expression of a control system complete with inputs, a system of interaction, outputs, and a feedback loop. The model details client profiles, flow of clients, results, and program changes. A community plan expands the operational model to view the community as a whole as the system of interaction.

Operational models can be used as a short-term feasibility demonstration as a pilot program approximating the scope and scale of the full program. A community plan provides a model that may be adopted by the local, state, or regional governance as a plan of action.

[Michael A. Wright, PhD, LAPSW]