Sustainability -- An Introduction




Sustainability is the ability of an organization to continue to achieve its mission for the customers it has chosen to serve with financial stability and within the context of generally accepted professional and societal norms. More simply, a sustainable assistive technology (AT) re-use organization is one that is a stable, ongoing operation.


The term ‘sustainable’ has commonly been used to describe practices in human society that do not deplete critical resources or have other adverse impacts on the ecology or natural environment. In recent years, the concept of sustainability has been applied to development projects. Many development projects fail to survive after the original funding ends. That situation is analogous to many nonprofit organizations in America. Too often, nonprofit organizations fail to develop the infrastructure and sources of income essential for long-term survival.


This module offers an overview of the essential components of sustainability and methods of assessing the organization’s progress toward sustainability. One author has suggested that comparative terminology (e.g., “more sustainable” or “less sustainable”) is more appropriate than finite language when discussing sustainability. Most of the factors that make an organization “more sustainable” are addressed in other modules in which best practices are described.


Importance of Sustainability


Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.

– Confucius


The purpose of the AT re-use organization is to fill a critical gap in societal services. To that end, it is important to build healthy, stable organizations that can continue to fill the need as long as that gap exists. In recent years, some major supporters of nonprofits have begun to move beyond giving to teaching principles of sustainability.


As donors and philanthropic organizations examined the issue, some concluded that sustainability hinges on creating greater involvement with supporters, broadening the base of support, and adopting proven management practices. Although nonprofit organizations are not the same as profit-making enterprises, there are proven models for infrastructure, management, marketing, and customer service in the business world.


Education for leadership and management also has been a significant focus in the nonprofit sector for the past decade, and resources for training and education are now available in university degree programs, certificate programs, training from foundations, and seminars and workshops (sometimes online) from state associations for nonprofits. [See the list, State Nonprofit Associations in the Finance and Accounting Module.]


Pass It On Center Direction


The Pass It On Center web site is designed to contribute to the expansion and sustainability of AT re-use programs. Many of the current approaches of nonprofit organizations and philanthropy in America can be adapted to promote the expansion of AT re-use.


Three basic strategies are proposed to support sustainability [Askaripour]:

1.               Engage the stakeholders.

2.               Diversify the sources of income.

3.               Build increased capacity to serve.


Engaging the stakeholders is a prerequisite for successful fundraising, and adequate income is essential to building capacity. Increased capacity to serve reinforces the commitment of the stakeholders, so these three strategies comprise a dynamic loop. The web site provides information about principles and best practices that support the three basic strategies. Although much of the information appears in other modules, this module explains how the functional modules contribute to the strategies for sustainability.


The success of each strategy should be measured. “What gets measured gets done” is a cliché in the business world. It means that people pay attention to those things that get measured, reported and watched. The organization should identify desired outcomes for each strategy and determine how to measure, compare and report outcomes. Those metrics become the quality indicators for the program. Some suggested quality indicators will be provided for each strategy.





Askaripour, David. Sustainability for Nonprofit Organizations. Retrieved December 21, 2008, from





Many additional resources are available and some of those are described in each of the three sustainability strategies.





Please note that by selecting an Internet link you will be directed to an external site, and the Pass It on Center does not control the content of the site.



This work is supported under a five-year cooperative agreement # H235V060016 awarded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, and is administered by the Pass It On Center of the Georgia Department of Labor – Tools for Life.  However, the contents of this publication do not necessarily represent the policy or opinions of the Department of Education, or the Georgia Department of Labor, and you should not assume endorsements of this document by the Federal government or the Georgia Department of Labor.








File Name File Size
There are no attachments for this article

Other Information

Title: Sustainability -- An Introduction
Module: Sustainability
Author: Trish Redmon
Audience: Administrator
Sub Title:
Organization Source: Pass It on Center
Last Reviewed: 01-22-2009 1:40 PM