Afterschool Focus: Planning to Sustain Your 21st CCLC Program

Sustainability planning is the cornerstone of an enduring Illinois 21st CCLC program. Moreover, all 21st CCLC applicants are required to include a sustainability plan with their grant application and be prepared to build and maintain high-quality services after the 21st CCLC grant funding has ended. If you are delivering high-quality 21st CCLC programming with a focus on continuous improvement, you are off to a good start in the area of sustainability planning.1 Read on for additional ways to continue programming when your grant ends.  


Start early. Once you receive funding, you may be tempted to set your sustainability plan aside and focus on other priorities. However, the earlier you plan for sustainability, the more likely it is that your program will remain viable when your grant ends.

Assemble a 21st CCLC leadership group (project director, site coordinators, finance manager, and grant managers) or advisory board to review the sustainability plan included in your grant application. Now that your program has been operating, is the plan still viable? Determine what parts of the plan you should update and what additional features you might add. If you have not already done so, develop a more detailed timeline and assign leads to oversee the implementation of different components of your sustainability plan.

Related resources:


Engage your partners. Afterschool partners can support sustainability in several ways. They can advocate for the 21st CCLC program by sharing their personal stories about the program’s successes and impact on their lives and in the community. Partner organizations can provide in-kind services or supplies, such as space for programming or staff to lead activities. They can also help you expand your program’s network of support by connecting you to other organizations and individuals whose interests align with those of your 21st CCLC program.

To engage your partners in sustainability planning, focus on building strong relationships early in your grant. Be sure to seek their input regularly and share information about your program, such as best practices your program has implemented, youth and parent feedback, and information about your program’s impact as it becomes available. Whether the partners are students and their families, school and district staff, community organizations, or local businesses, they will be stronger advocates if they see how the 21st CCLC program benefits them and the community. If you engage partners early in the sustainability planning process, you can expand their roles over time.2

Related resources:


Sustainability is the ability to build and maintain high-quality services after your 21st CCLC grant funding has ended.

Sustainable programs

  • maintain attendance and engagement,
  • are valued in the community,
  • understand various funding sources, and
  • build strong partnerships.3 

Make connections. Even if you have engaged partners, you will want to continue building new relationships with people and organizations who can support your program. As with all aspects of sustainability planning, you will want to be strategic. Consider areas where you have support and areas where you still need the support of partner organizations. For example, you might need an organization that has expertise in an area aligned with your mission, that has connections in the community, or that can provide a specific resource.

Related resources:

  • Complete the Beyond the Bell Asset Map to identify existing and potential partners, their expertise, and how their mission aligns with your 21st CCLC program’s vision.
  • Conduct a needs assessment to identify program needs and areas where you need support.


Tell your story. The best way to garner support for your program is by telling stakeholders about your 21st CCLC program’s high-quality practices and impact and how they can support it. Data are a key part of this. If your program does not already have a logic model, consider developing one so that you can align 21st CCLC activities with desired outcomes. This is the time to share evaluation results and other data that show the work your program has done. These can include survey results and quotes from students, their families, and community members about what the program means to them. You can also share student academic achievement and behavioral data that illustrate how student outcomes have improved for those who participate in your 21st CCLC program.4

Telling the story of your afterschool program is a team effort. Make sure your entire team knows your 21st CCLC program’s vision and goals. Invite your team to prepare and practice an elevator speech—a pitch that can be given in 30–60 seconds—so that they can tell existing and potential partners about your program, its successes, and its needs.

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Identify existing sources of support. As you plan for sustainability, you will want to be on the lookout for different types of support. Explore state and local resources, local businesses, other nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and district and school resources. As noted above, support does not have to be financial. Would a local park district provide enrichment activities at no cost if it helped them promote their services and reach community engagement goals? Can the school or district you serve provide staff or other services?


Focus on continuous improvement. As you continue developing and implementing your sustainability plan, you will want to monitor progress and adjust your plan as needed. In the early years of your grant, you will want to review progress on your sustainability plan at least once a year. If you are more than halfway through your grant, you will want to meet and review progress more frequently. Just as you do with all aspects of your 21st CCLC program, communicate with partners about progress in your sustainability work, celebrate successes, share challenges, and update your sustainability plan to reflect emerging needs and priorities.



McElvain, C. K., Moroney, D. A., Devaney, E. D., Singer, J. S., & Newman, J. Z. (2014). Beyond the Bell: A toolkit for creating effective afterschool and expanded learning programs (4th ed.). American Institutes for Research.

You for Youth. (2018). It’s never too late to think about sustainability.

Afterschool Alliance. (n.d.a). Funding and sustainability: Prepare for the future.

Afterschool Alliance. (n.d.b). Making the case for afterschool: Talking points and outreach strategies.



1 You for Youth, 2018.

2 McElvain, et al, 2014.

3 You for Youth, 2018.

4 Afterschool Alliance, n.d.a.; Afterschool Alliance, n.d.b.