Giving Compass' Take:

• Stanford Social Innovation Review explains how Water for the People avoids common pitfalls of WASH funding by building a comprehensive checklist of project milestones that must be completed before leaving.

• Most social programs should aim to make themselves obsolete for the greater good, but what are the consequences of abandoned initiatives? 

• Find out why water well programs only make an impact if they provide a reliable water source.

Nonprofit leaders talk a lot about creating exit strategies for programs, but few organizations have been able to phase out their work in a way that provides quality, sustainable services for the communities they’re leaving. Too often, exits are dictated by inadequate funding streams or arbitrary timelines, rather than results.

It’s time to radically rethink how we design and implement exit strategies, putting the focus on impact and sustainability, rather than timelines and money spent. We have found through our own experience in the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector that a simple and flexible checklist can greatly increase the feasibility of a graceful exit.

The WASH sector is littered with examples of exits gone wrong. A 2012 audit of European Union investments in sub-Saharan WASH projects over the past decade—$1 billon worth of investments—showed that half of the projects had failed to have impact, largely because they were not well managed over the long term. To help ensure that our work is sustainable, we have developed a simple but comprehensive checklist. In devising our own checklist for the WASH sector, we learned three important lessons that apply to any nonprofit devising an exit strategy.

  1. A cookie-cutter checklist and scoring system will not provide accurate insights on impact sustainability in these diverse settings.
  2. Scores should prompt conversations, and provide a clear roadmap for action and investment.
  3. The deeper we looked at the checklist indicators and the feasibility of districts maintaining their scores over time, the more we realized that it is not realistic to fully engage with programs one day and leave the next without looking back.

Read the full article about exit strategies with lasting impact by Kimberly Lemme and Kelly Latham at Stanford Social Innovation Review.