The Community Leadership Educator’s Perspective on Program Sustainability

Those who work to develop and manage community-based leadership programs have long been concerned with how to sustain them – to keep them healthy and useful. But focusing on how to sustain programs requires exploring what sustainability means. This paper reports on interviews with 41 community-based leadership education program coordinators. In contrast to their definitions of success, which emphasize impacting individuals and communities, interviewees defined program sustainability more as having enough participants, adequate funding, continuity, community support, and alumni involvement in program management. The paper explores the nuances of these definitions, including internal aspects of sustainability over which program managers had significant control, and external conditions over which they had less control. The paper also explores differences in perspectives between coordinators of programs sponsored by Chambers of Commerce and those sponsored by Cooperative Extension and universities or nonprofits.