Afterschool Focus: Laying the Groundwork for Sustainability with High-Quality Programming

One of the adages about program sustainability is that afterschool leaders should pursue new sources of funding before the current grant has ended. When you are busy addressing the daily responsibilities of managing a 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC) afterschool program, it’s tempting to put off planning for sustainability. The good news is that while you build a high-quality program, you are also laying the groundwork for a sustainability plan. Cultivating an engaging, mission-driven afterschool program will enable your leadership team to seek support outside of your 21st CCLC grant.

Documenting results. Afterschool practitioners often associate sustainability with securing funds. While this is an important component, fundraising efforts should begin with showing that your program has had an impact on student achievement. Grantees have noted that providing evidence of their program’s impact helped them secure funds beyond their 21st CCLC grant. If your evaluation results show that you are running a high-quality 21st CCLC and having a positive impact on student achievement, be sure to share that information with stakeholders. As you think about sustainability, make sure you have a strong foundation in place to achieve the results you want: good program management and professional development, which will ultimately lead to high-quality programming.[1]

Creating strong partnerships. Just as your program’s success depends on a range of community supporters and partners, so does its sustainability. Some 21st CCLCs have reported that they worked with school and district officials in the final stages of their grants to be included in the district budget so that they still have funding for their program. Grantees actively cultivated relationships with school officials by inviting them to visit and participate in program activities and keeping them regularly informed of successes. Doing so helped ensure the school leadership became advocates of the program. Similarly, grantees have reached out to family and community members, making them aware of their 21st CCLC's activities and encouraging them to become involved. The goal is to make these groups and other stakeholders realize your program’s significance so they are unable to imagine the community without it. In addition to developing school and community support for their programs, grantees can also use outreach to cultivate relationships with key individuals who can champion their cause.[2]

Developing a vision. A program's vision and goals are integral to its success. Again, it is easier to win stakeholders' support if they understand what your program is trying to accomplish, what steps you have taken so far, and how they can help you achieve your program vision. As you seek additional sources of funding and perhaps move beyond your 21st CCLC grant, take the opportunity to revisit your program’s vision and decide how you want to proceed. Are there changes you want to make to your program moving forward? The Finance Project, an organization that helps leaders finance and sustain initiatives that benefit children, families, and communities, encourages 21st CCLCs to plan for life beyond their grant by deciding what aspects of their program they want to sustain, the scale and scope of the programming they’d like to offer, and the resulting costs. After that, programs can decide what type of support to pursue.[3]

Diversifying sources of funding. Afterschool programs that continue operating after their 21st CCLC grants end do so by pursuing both financial and in-kind support from a variety of sources. For financial support, consider federal, state, and local government funds, as well as private sources like foundations and businesses. Programs can also explore fundraising campaigns or charging fees for some participants or activities. In-kind support can include staff time from community organizations, evaluations conducted by universities, fundraising assistance from local businesses, or promotion of special events by the local media.[4]

Next steps. Most of the recommendations outlined above are based on resources from The Finance Project and the Afterschool Alliance (in collaboration with the National Center for Community Education). We encourage you to further explore these resources as you develop your program’s sustainability plan.

Be sure to attend the Illinois Quality Afterschool team’s special topic workshop on sustainability, which will take place in November. Watch for the notification email so that your team can register for the event.


[1] The National Center for Community Education (NCCE) and the Afterschool Alliance. (n.d.). The road to sustainability. Washington, DC: Author, p. 2; Szekely, A., and Clapp Padgette, H., (2006). Sustaining 21st Century Community Learning Centers: What works for programs and how policy makers can help. Washington, DC: The Finance Project, p. 7.

[2] Szekely and Clapp Padgette, p. 7

[3] Szekely and Clapp Padgette, p. 6; NCCE and the Afterschool Alliance, pp. 2–5.

[4] NCCE and the Afterschool Alliance, p. 18.