Is our project sustainable?

by
17 November 2010

by Maggie Durran

I have received a request, from a charity to which I applied for a grant, for evidence that our project is sustainable. What will I be expected to provide? Are there any models for material to show sustainability?

THE model for evidence of sustain­ability is a well-worked business plan. Models are available from several sources, but the heart of the plan is the same. The Lottery Funds — both Big and Heritage — provide model business plans.

To answer your question, I have looked again at the business-plan notes that are part of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation website (www.esmeefairbairn.org.uk/). This trust expects to receive a business plan with all large funding bids.

When we are altering our churches to include increased lettings to local people — or even providing space free of charge — any investor and/or grant-maker will want to ensure that the church has grappled with all the issues of risk, management, demand, and ongoing cost before viewing the project as a worthwhile invest­ment.

For example, in adapting your building for daily use, have you fully explained how you are going to cover increased heating-bills with the price of gas constantly rising? How are the sums going to add up? And how are you going to cope with the daily cleaning, repair, and administration of a busy building?

Besides stating your objectives and purpose, expect to explain the “market” for your space; are there people who want to use it at the price you realistically need to charge? Is anyone else in the area providing the same service? Are they doing it better than you? Would you be viable alongside them?

Explain how you will market your project, and what your financial targets are, month by month and year by year. A good cash-flow projection that shows the monthly ups and downs of the project’s finances will be essential. Assess and explain the added resources that you will need — staff, equipment, licences, and so on — and how you plan to provide these, including them in the costs.

The trust’s website model also asks for some consideration of the sensitivity of your calculations by asking “What if?” questions. You will quickly realise that, if your new spaces are not full every day, the cost per unit for heating will be higher. So, when you calculate your income from lettings, it is common to set, say, 60 per cent of possible bookings per month as the figure that should recoup all your related costs. If you get 100-per-cent lettings sometimes, then you can save some funds for when the lettings drop back.

Fully explain how you will manage your building or spaces, as only well-managed and maintained buildings will be sustainable. If it is not well run, people will soon move to cleaner and better-organised premises else­where.

Finally, produce a robust risk-assessment of the project you are establishing. Have you set up management that can ride out both an interregnum and the fresh ideas of a new priest? If a trust is going to invest in your church as a com­munity building, it does not want to find that four years down the line the new priest closes the building to local groups and neighbourhood pro­grammes.

Send questions to maggie.durran@churchtimes.co.uk

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