Program Sustainability Concepts

We’re back with day 2 of the 2017 PATH Intl Virtual Conference! The first session was “Program Sustainability at Year 70: Practical Advice and Choices from Green Chimneys” by Michael Kaufmann of Green Chimneys, and it was really good. In case you thought, like me, what can this chimney guy teach us about the therapeutic riding business, know that Green Chimneys is in fact a 70 year old program on a farm and wildlife center in NY providing animal-assisted therapy and educational activities for children with special needs. They are a great example of diversity and multi programming, check out their website!

This presentations was so good, I don’t want to post all my notes, because you should really watch it yourself! (I’ll post a link here when they get the videos up next week). However, I do want to throw out there some important sustainability concepts that people starting or running programs may be interested in. I loved this presentation because Michael addressed some hard issues that people often don’t think about, but are super important. So I hope this helps!

Program Sustainability Concepts

Have A Plan

“Implementation and success follow good planning.” As I’ve said before, make a business plan! So many businesses fail because they didn’t plan.

Share Ownership and Workload

“Sustainability is about WE rather than ME.” Identify people who can help you. Share ownership of the program with the board, staff, volunteers, etc. Define roles. You don’t have to do everything – and if you DO do everything, you’re program is not sustainable and will fall apart without you. Share the dream with others so the program doesn’t hinge on one person!

Know How Big You Want to Get

Know if you want to grow or stay small. There is nothing wrong with wanting to stay small. But knowing what you want affects where you will operate, the farm location, and the finances surrounding it.

Avoid Founders Syndrome

Know who will carry on the program after you! Early on, soon after starting, have a plan in place.

Founder’s Syndrome looks like: the founder views the program as their baby, does it all themselves, has no free time, says they’ve hired good people but always checks their work, can’t find someone as dedicated as them to take over.

He gave some good suggestions about how to start the conversation with the founder – most important, be kind and remember their founder’s syndrome comes from such a good place because they love the program. This can make it difficult to address, but appeal to their hope that the program will continue. Find people to help, like family members or close friends. Don’t give up, it won’t take just one day, but keep bringing it up.

Be Familiar With Organizational Life Cycles

Click Here for an image of the organizational life cycle, or Google it. Know where your program is at and what the next phase it, so you can plan for it and not be caught by surprise. Or if you’re just starting, know that there are phases and it’s not just one way forever! Plan for each phase!

Be Prepared for Common Business Decisions

There are decisions you may have to make that will be so much easier if you plan ahead. Such as:

  • unbudgeted expenses
  • income decline
  • staff salary pressures
  • competitive threats
  • founder sickness

Hint: if you make a business plan you’ll cover a lot of these.

Hint II: this is where your board and experienced friends come in to bring in the knowledge that you don’t have!

Avoid of Inappropriate Dependence

He didn’t call it this, but I’ll call it what it is. Don’t be overly dependent on ONE:

  • staff member
  • landlord
  • client base
  • volunteer
  • donor
  • income source
  • horse

Be Part of a Professional Community

I like that he brought this up because they exist for a reason! One being to help with sustainability. This includes:

  • attend conferences
  • go back to school, get a business degree
  • hire consultants
  • build on previous business models
  • cooperate instead of compete – he makes a good point that this EAAT industry has a lot of money and clients and therefore room for everyone still
  • continue your own education
  • build on others’ experiences, don’t reinvent the wheel
  • Include non equine professions – “play in a big sandbox” – school associations, be Certified by other agencies not just PATH Intl, use other animals not just horses, use standards set by other organization (EAGALA)



Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgement! If you would like to contribute an activity or article, please contact me here, I would love to hear from you!

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