An Eye for the Future - Part 1

This in the first in a series of blog posts addressing the concept of sustainability in our planning. As a management tool, it helps us build programs and initiatives in a way that points towards success.

I believe in sustainability - not just in my personal life but also in my work at the library.

When I think of projects and initiatives, a big question and discussion point as planning is done and over the course of the project is - can this be sustained? As a manager I like to see amazing efforts and accomplishments. I love to see big picture projects and ideas that push the envelope of our service to families and kids.

But I also like to see how the ideas and efforts can be maintained beyond the here and now. What are the implications - for the budget, for the staff, for continuation over the long-haul, for equitable access? Is the idea for a service or initiative one that will have longevity? Can it evolve and have a nimbleness factor that lets us adjust it for changing needs.  Is this something that if we offer to one, we can offer to all?

To me questions like this that look into the future can inform our choices. They make planning deeper and result in a project or service that is more sustainable.

Let's look at an example.

1000 Books Before Kindergarten
Many libraries are creating these programs for preschoolers in their community. The question is often asked, what are the costs of the program? I always like to say, it's what you can afford - and can realistically maintain. When we developed our program in Menasha, figuring in the cost for a binder for each child, CDs given out at every 100 level and a book at the end brought the cost per child to $14. I could see this would mean we would need to do continual fundraising to maintain this if the program proved popular.

It made me uncomfortable not to have a secure source of funds in place and to have such a high cost per child in terms of sustainability. The program has great worth and, philosophically, I wanted to offer it for as long as we could to involve kids for many years. The pressure of continual fundraising and grant-writing to maintain a project adds stress and uncertainty. I didn't want to repeat that feeling.

When we developed the program in here La Crosse, we had a goal of 1000 kids involved over the life of the program. We worked hard and raised $7000 dollars and figured the cost per child at $6 for stickers, book bag, finger puppet and book.  We now have 750 kids in the program after two and a half years and still have a substantial cushion of funds to go well beyond our original projection (not all families who start will continue).  I believe based on current and projected expenditures, our original funding remains secure for at least six years.  By that time the program may naturally sunset or we can reach out again to generate donor-funding. This passes the sustainability test in my mind.

Our materials have also met that test. We have evolved our recording sheets and incentives to reflect participant feedback. It has helped us save money and still provide an amazing experience for families. We have not had to stay static and we look forward to more tweaks in the future.

In the next blog posts, I'll look at grant-funded projects and their pitfalls - or triumphs.

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Graphic courtesy of Pixabay

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