A national network of funders supporting strategic, innovative, and effective solutions to homelessness

Speak Up for Innovation among Nonprofits

In this challenging economy, funders may find it difficult to support an innovative idea when so many established programs are struggling under shrinking budgets. 

In this challenging economy, funders may find it difficult to support an innovative idea when so many established programs are struggling under shrinking budgets. I see this in my role as lead staff with the United Way Regional Commission on Homelessness. As funders, we must grapple with supporting those innovations that show promise and, in the process, embrace a certain risk in our commitments.

It is important that a small portion of our portfolios support innovations in our field despite the possibility of failure. As Robert Kotick of Activision Blizzard said in a recent Forbes magazine article: “The most important thing we do to encourage innovation is give people the freedom to fail…” In a tight resource environment with so many well-established programs facing cutbacks, this is a bold proposition but one worth tackling.

Funder Support Leads to Creative Solutions

Without support from funders, our nonprofit agencies are unable to try new things and possibly improve efficiency or effectiveness. Conversely, with support from foundations, innovative ideas abound. One great example is the recently completed initiative of The Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta, which provided multi-year funding and support to several programs that creatively addressed the critical connections between health and homelessness. It inspired, among other examples, a new partnership between the Grady Health System and two nonprofits (Gateway and St. Joseph’s Mercy Care) that provides homeless patients being discharged with a safe, supported place to recuperate.

Other innovative ideas to address homelessness and supported by our local foundations have also paid off. Programs such as Street to Home, which is based on the “Housing First” approach (we learned about it from Pathways to Housing in New York), are changing the way homelessness can be addressed. The program offers apartment-based housing and intensive case management to people identified as chronically homeless―and it works! Street to Home has a 75% success rate in getting people off the streets and working toward independence.

Another example is the innovative work by First Step Staffing in the area of successfully obtaining social security and disability benefits. By taking a team approach to creatively modifying the application process, they have seen a dramatic decrease in the amount of time it takes to obtain benefits. This enables people who are homeless to access healthcare and housing more effectively.

Without support from funders, none of these examples of innovation would have taken off. Funders and agencies in our sector must be more proactive in supporting innovative approaches that promise more effective solutions-even when there are no guarantees of success.

Protip Biswas is the Vice President of the Regional Commission on Homelessness at United Way of Greater Atlanta.

We joined Funders Together because we believe in the power of philanthropy to play a major role in ending homelessness, and we know we have much to learn from funders across the country.

-Christine Marge, Director of Housing and Financial Stability at United Way of Greater Los Angeles

I am thankful for the local partnerships here in the Pacific Northwest that we’ve been able to create and nurture thanks to the work of Funders Together. Having so many of the right players at the table makes our conversations – and all of our efforts – all the richer and more effective.

-David Wertheimer, Deputy Director at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.

-President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964 State of the Union Address

Funders Together has given me a platform to engage the other funders in my community. Our local funding community has improved greatly to support housing first models and align of resources towards ending homelessness.

-Leslie Strnisha, Vice President at Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland

Our family foundation convenes local funders and key community stakeholders around strategies to end homelessness in Houston. Funders Together members have been invaluable mentors to us in this effort, traveling to our community to share their expertise and examples of best practices from around the nation.

-Nancy Frees Fountain, Managing Director at The Frees Foundation

Sign in with Facebook, Twitter or email.