Sustainability – Its Relevance for Funding Providers, Your Organisation and Society

Anyone looking at the subject of public funding, financing and fundraising – whether from the EU or from other sources – will soon gather that the term ‘sustainability’ has a much broader meaning in this area than its general associations in everyday language where it refers to ecological sustainability.

The sustainable impact of national and international projects and activities for which public funding is applied is one of the primary criteria that decides whether a positive funding decision is made by Brussels or other donors. Many funding applications fail because this aspect is not given sufficient weight during the development of the project to be funded. It is important to consider the issue of sustainability from the outset, in other words from the very first ideas for a new project. Using the ‘Logical Framework Approach’ tool, presented to you in detail in the upgrade2europe handbook, you can be sure to have this covered.

Why is Sustainability Important for Funders?

For donors, whether they are state funding organisations, private donors or foundations, the sustainable impact of the financial resources they provide is of primary importance. It is rare for an organisation to receive external funding solely to finance its own business operations, for example. The allocation of external funds to areas beyond legally regulated services (unemployment insurance, pension insurance, etc.) is almost always linked to specific overarching objectives. Politicians, whether they are based in Brussels or in your home country, usually require recipients to make a visible contribution to solving political problems or challenges, for example in the areas of the economy (innovation, new jobs, etc.), society (integration of third-country nationals, democratic participation, etc.) or social affairs (demographic change, ageing society, etc.) in exchange for receiving funding.

If you take these political objectives seriously when applying for funding for your international and national projects and activities, then you have already taken a key step on the path to future successful application projects. This is because many applicants focus too much on the money for their project and too little on the impact of their project. If you reverse this way of thinking in your organisation and view external funding more as a means to an end than as an end in itself, you will understand sustainability in the way that is commensurate with the funding you receive – given that this is usually financed by taxes.

Why is Sustainability Important for Your Organisation?

Organisations that attach importance to sustainability are more successful in the medium and long term. After all, sustainability boils down to utilising the results of activities and projects in your own interests. This dimension of sustainability refers to all measures, tasks and activities that are suitable for an organisation to continue to derive the greatest possible benefit from an activity or project in the future – whether as part of its international activities within Europe or in a national context.

The example of the upgrade2europe lead partner emcra – Co-shaping Europe illustrates this aspect of sustainability from the perspective of an organisation that is using public funding from Brussels for its Europeanisation. Even when applying for EU funding, its focus has been on sustainable impact. If a publicly funded project does not promise to make a substantial contribution to the realisation of emcra’s vision, mission and strategic goals, it is not pursued further (keyword: project governance).

When implementing funded projects, sustainability is also on emcra’s agenda from the outset in order to maximise the impact for all those involved. Project consortia often only address the issue of sustainability shortly before the end of the project. There is then a risk that the results will not be utilised to the greatest possible extent. As soon as time, personnel or financial resources become scarce in a project towards the end of the project term, individual project partners usually tend to focus on new tasks instead of continuing to work on the sustainability of the results within the consortium.

As an organisation, you should also be prepared to provide your own funds in addition to external funding to make the most of the project results. For example, in the seven years in which the results of the predecessor project of upgrade2europe were available online free of charge to interested parties, emcra provided a five-digit sum in Euros for the improvement and maintenance of the Europeanisation self-analysis tool. This financial commitment has been rewarded, among other things, by follow-up funding, which, as in this case, is much more likely for upgrade2europe if it can build on existing and demonstrably effective project results.

Those who stand out in Europe for their good project results are also invited by other organisations to play an important role in their EU projects. emcra, for example, has had the opportunity to contribute to the further development of, a simple and easy-to-adapt project management method that is now used in 26 languages worldwide. You can find out more about in the upgrade2europe handbook. It has been proven that good EU project results at emcra have also lead to additional income, for example within a certified further training programme for digital managers based on the results of an EU project, or to more consulting requests, particularly in the area of inclusive leadership.

Why is the Concept of Sustainability Important for Society?

Last but not least, a broader concept of sustainability is also relevant for all activities and projects financed by third parties. There are several reasons for this, which are briefly outlined below:
  • European Green Deal: within Europe, the European Green Deal should be mentioned here in particular. This is an initiative of the European Commission that is committed to sustainable development in Europe. The European Green Deal was presented in December 2019 and aims to make Europe climate-neutral by 2050. Without taking into account the goals formulated in the Green Deal, it will be more difficult to receive public funding from the EU in the future.
  • Sustainable Development Goals – SDGs: the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 global development goals adopted by the United Nations in 2015. An increasing number of EU funding applications explicitly ask about the contribution of the proposed projects to the 17 global development goals.
  • ESG criteria: ESG refers to the criteria used by organisations to assess their performance in terms of sustainability and social responsibility.

Useful Links and Further Information

Have we piqued your interest in the sustainability of publicly or privately funded projects and activities? The EU and other donors have various opportunities for you to co-finance your activities in Europe. You can find additional tips on EU funding here. You can read about alternative sources of funding outside the EU here. You can find out where to start your funding research here.

You can find more helpful articles and tips in this upgrade2europe learning tool, in our learning videos and in our upgrade2europe handbook. In the handbook you will also find an introduction to the ‘Logical Framework Approach’ tool, the standard tool for developing EU projects. You can use our self-assessment tool if you would like to immediately check online to what extent your organisation is well positioned for Europe.