Making the shift to Housing First, low-barrier, and housing-focused shelter practices can be both exciting and scary, especially for your Board of Directors. Shelter operators who made this shift share the following tips for educating your Board of Directors and keeping them committed to the shelter mission.
- Board members who have a firm understanding of your organization’s mission are more likely to support decisions or strategies that are mission-driven — keeping the organization on course and fulfilling its purpose. The more Board members understand shelter programs, the more they offer in terms of strong engagement, strategy, leadership, and fundraising.
- Boards are often focused on core aspects of governance and fiduciary responsibilities. Shelter leadership should use shelter data and performance outcomes to educate the Board and equip them with success stories to share with funders.
- When introducing a shift to a Housing First, low-barrier, and housing-focused shelter model, expect misunderstanding and resistance from your Board. Anticipate their concerns and be ready to address health and safety questions in particular.
- To prepare for Board concerns about health and safety, have a plan ready to train staff in conflict resolution, de-escalation, trauma informed care, and other techniques.
- Know your data and performance measures — such as average length of time in shelter, exits to permanent housing, and exits to homelessness. Be prepared to share how these data can tell a story of improved performance or existing challenges. Demonstrate to the Board how valuable this information is to potential funders.
- The Board should have a clear understanding of and commitment to the shelter’s goals and mission. For example, is the goal of the shelter to provide temporary shelter, or to end homelessness? Outcomes will reflect what the shelter is designed to do.
- Ask your Board of Directors to introduce you to their networks to educate and inform the greater community on the role and purpose of your shelter, especially after embracing a shift to Housing First.
- Provide a comprehensive orientation for new Board members on their role and the shelter’s mission and values. Provide opportunities for Board members to see a low-barrier, housing-focused shelter in action.
Information on Board practices from BoardSource, Leading with Intent: 2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices (pdf).