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Exit strategies and sustainability

Exploring project continuation
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Exit strategies and sustainability refer to the ability of projects to cope when grant funding ends. Your project needs to be sustainable so it can carry on after our funding ends. Exit strategies help you to plan how to continue your work.

Such exit strategies are important even if your project isn’t set to continue. They can help you to mitigate the impact of your project's closure on beneficiaries.

Our evaluations frequently highlight difficulties in maintaining support for projects. Through these and our additional research we've identified some common areas of difficulties and success.

By sharing our learning with you here, we hope you can use it to help plan sustainable projects.


A number of factors can contribute to projects being sustainable. These include:

  • good business planning
  • strong relationships with partners, communities and policy makers
  • involving potential continuation funders at an early stage
  • monitoring, evaluating and communicating the project's impact
  • business development skills to embed learning
  • continuity of staff and volunteers
  • the development of a diverse funding package with several income streams.

Our Supporting Change and Impact evaluation showed that business planning activities were the most effective in achieving sustainability. This was particularly the case when over £5,000 was put towards the work. Such resources can help groups free up staff time to work on business planning as well as drawing in external expertise.

Our thematic review into project sustainability has suggestions for how you can develop some of these strengths and examples of projects that have used these factors to aid their sustainability.

Common challenges

Our Supporting Change and Impact evaluation highlights the importance of good business planning. Without enough emphasis on it, many projects included in the evaluation closed. The tough economic climate may have been an additional factor in these closures too.

Understanding these challenges is the first step in overcoming them. Through them we have seen that two additional factors can help groups make effective decisions to support sustainability:

  • a diagnostic process to help groups objectively identify the work they need to do and the skills they need to become more sustainable
  • a more informed understanding and choice of development specialists who are best placed to advise them.


We recognise the value of allocating funds that support project sustainability. We're keen to find out the best way to do this.

Our research is helping us to understand how projects can best be supported to develop sustainability skills and exit strategies. Already we've seen that important factors include:

  • giving grant holders space away from project delivery to plan for the future
  • facilitating sustainability at an organisational level, rather than just a project level
  • allowing sufficient time for exit strategy support.

Our Supporting Change and Impact initiative and our thematic review has helped to inform our work in this area. We will continue to support organisations improve their sustainability and exit strategies by:

  • helping grant-holders prepare for sustainability from the outset of their projects
  • supporting organisations through our programme design
  • encouraging grant-holders to address sustainability in their project plans and budgets.

More about the research

Thematic review of project sustainability

To draw together our learning about project sustainability from various evaluations and programmes a thematic review was commissioned. This was published 2014.

Early indicators of sustainability

To review our own ability to promote project sustainability, we commissioned GHK to produce a report in 2006. The report looked at how we can encourage sustainability through our frameworks and evaluations.

Exit strategies

Back in 2002 the Community Fund (Big Lottery Fund’s early incarnation) asked applicants about their plans as part of the application process. Many of these issues remain relevant for projects today.

Supporting Change and Impact

We tested ways of supporting grant-holders to plan for their future through Supporting Change and Impact. We commissioned Rocket Science to evaluate its two elements:

  • Supporting Impact - a year of continuation funding
  • Supporting Change - providing up to £10,000 for projects to work out how best to plan for the future. The most popular choices were to spend this money on evaluation, followed by business planning, marketing and income generation.

Supporting Change and Impact was an early initiative under our Building Capabilities for Impact and Legacy Framework in England. We will use its lessons to shape how we support sustainability and legacy planning in our future programmes.


Thematic review

Thematic review of project sustainability

Early indicators of sustainability

Early indicators of sustainability report
Early indicators of sustainability report summary

Sustainability: A short guide

Exit strategies

Exit Strategies: Factors for success

Supporting Change and Impact

Supporting Change and Impact evaluation
Supporting Change and Impact baseline report
Supporting Change and Impact baseline report: Appendix 1
Supporting Change and Impact baseline report: Appendix 2
Supporting Change and Impact baseline report: Appendix 3