Looking Back and Moving Forward

by Janice Elliott October 26, 2012

A compelling memo sent in 1989 by board member John Gibb set the course of the Melville Trust’s mission and work:

“While I am sure there have been homeless down through time, it seems to me this area has grown for various reasons and seems much more critical today. . .I am hoping for solutions that would remove these individuals from their current hopeless position to a more satisfying and rewarding way of life.”

For over twenty years the Trust has focused exclusively on this vexing social issue, working with a complex and interrelated network of grantee partners and funder collaborators across disciplines to reduce and ultimately end homelessness. It is a privilege and honor to have been chosen as Executive Director of this remarkable foundation as it enters its next phase.

For any organization, the arrival of a new director is a good time to take a few steps back to evaluate and plan for the future. In the coming months, the Trust will be doing just that—examining how we can make an even deeper impact in ending homelessness, both at the national level and within Connecticut.

This type of active analysis and planning must also respond to a changing environment. My conversations and experiences during these first weeks on the job have only emphasized that these are transformative times for our field. New opportunities have arisen to meet the needs of vulnerable families and individuals. Federal initiatives such as the Affordable Care Act, the HEARTH Act, and the Frank Melville Supportive Housing Act are creating the need for collaboration and creative thinking. New state investments in housing in Connecticut will offer unique leverage opportunities. These changes bring high expectations for nonprofits to meet new outcomes and do work differently – within the context of a tough economic climate. Like the nonprofits we support, the Trust itself may be called upon to transform, changing some of the ways we deploy and prioritize our resources.

Janice Elliott and Bob Hohler

For all of us looking to do our work in new ways, it is important to continue to be guided by core beliefs. In his writings, my predecessor, friend, and mentor, Bob Hohler, set forth many of the Trust’s core values. Joe Breiteneicher, Bob’s colleague and long-time advisor to the Trust, always articulated an inspiring vision forward.  The principles developed by these two extraordinary men will continue to be central to our work:

  • Be strategic and focus on what really matters. Keep our mission front and center. Spend our resources with an eye for strategic opportunity and meaningful progress. Proactively seek opportunities to make a difference, and be willing to explore, experiment, and take risks.
  • Don’t assume—learn. Understand issues through the lens of those engaged in trying to make change. The practical experiences of practitioners and activists, as well as what we learn from research, should inform our critical thinking and strategy making.
  • Invest in leaders. No matter how compelling a new idea or project is, it is essential to have a leader with vision, passion for social change, and an effective implementation plan and team. Leadership development and capacity building remain a key Trust strategy.
  • Communicate clearly. Make the process for applying for support as transparent as possible, and communicate our activities and grantmaking simply, directly, and widely. We hope that our new blog and our Twitter account @MelvilleTrust will provide more engagement and discussion opportunities for grantseekers and the public.
  • Be nimble. Use the range of tools at our disposal to increase our impact. This includes grant making, program-related investments, convenings and social media. We commit to lending our voice and ideas to stimulate thinking, push for change, and link our allies toward a common purpose.

As we both look back and plan for the future over the coming months, the Trust will continue to be, as Joe so aptly put it, “actively opportunistic.” We will continue to seek out gaps in key areas and policies where we can most effectively leverage our investments. After all, there is much work to be done that can’t wait. In the meantime, we welcome you to our new website and invite your input into our ongoing learning process. The Trust’s history demonstrates that working together to develop solutions to homelessness is the only way forward.

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