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Monday, August 9, 2021

Selecting a Nonprofit Addressing Homelessness

Giving back is very important to my wife and me.  We have developed deep relationships with local, national, and international nonprofits.  We use a disciplined process to identify causes and specific nonprofits for investment, as well as collaboration. One of these areas is homelessness.  We used Charity Navigator's website, studied Forms 990, and digested what was presented on the websites of a dozen candidates to determine the best fit for us.  When conducting exercises such as these, we focus on several questions:

 - Is their strategy compelling?

 - Do they differentiate themselves?

 - Is the organization sustainable and transparent?

 - Does scaling impact drive their organization?

We discovered a standout: Community Solutions.

Why did we select Community Solutions?

  • Compelling strategy - They take a holistic approach to tackling complex issues within homelessness.  They developed a strategy to maximize their impact. They help communities utilize data to understand and respond to homelessness, at a population level. This enables 80+ affiliates to make decisions at the community level while tailoring support for individuals.

  • Focus and discipline - Homelessness is their sole concern, centered on the Built for Zero (BfZ) initiative.  BfZ's methodology helps communities ascertain individual needs while targeting efforts and resources to help the homeless population.  They do an excellent job of executing their strategy and reviewing progress against plan, rigorously using metrics to evaluate their goals and performance.

  • Sustainability - They have a perfect 100 score on Charity Navigator's Encompass Rating System.  Their real value is how they invest in partnerships and innovation to help their affiliates succeed.

  • Partnerships - They leverage partners to expand what they do and magnify their impact.  These span finance, housing, building supply and technology as well as foundations, governments and nonprofits.  Each BfZ community also has its own network of local partners.

  • Innovation and adaptability - We value nonprofits that invest in technology and develop financial solutions to help their clients.  They leverage technology to visualize patterns in homelessness and establish financial solutions to accelerate building affordable housing.  They deploy pilot projects—one project sought to understand the role health care systems can play to help end homelessness.

  • Impact - This results in significant impact which they measure and communicate in specific terms. 80+ communities have achieved quality, real-time data to measure homelessness, 46 communities have achieved a measurable reduction, and 14 communities have functionally ended homelessness for a population.  As a result, 137,851 individuals have been housed by BfZ communities since 2015.

The MacArthur Foundation $100 Million Grant

The MacArthur Foundation 100&Change grant is prestigious.  Hundreds of entries from nonprofits were narrowed to six semifinalists.  Community Solutions was selected as the winner in April 2021.  I’d encourage you to take a look at the proposals submitted. They are all inspiring

This $100 million award covers five years of funding to Community Solutions, and includes grants from Community Solutions to help their affiliates in the Built for Zero program broaden and deepen their capabilities and impact.  It will roughly double their size for the duration of the grant period.  It plans to accelerate an end to homelessness in 75 communities within five years by reaching Functional Zero while holding government leaders accountable and scaling up appropriate housing solutions. Rosanne Haggerty, president and founder of Community Solutions, says, “The MacArthur Award has moved the reality that homelessness is a solvable problem into the mainstream. We are going to have the chance to do so many things that we’ve dreamed of doing for years, but always had to consider, ‘What do we have the resources to do,’ or ‘How far can we go?’ Those constraints have been lifted now and it is so thrilling.”

Community Solutions is a great example of a smaller nonprofit on the path to transform homelessness by focusing on data-driven approaches to bring affiliates and their clients resources.  In addition, they are changing the public debate so that homelessness is perceived as a solvable issue rather than an intractable one.


Since homelessness has been increasingly important to address with the economic consequences of the pandemic, I would encourage you to review Charity Navigator’s Eviction Moratorium: Housing Stability Hot Topic for a robust list of great nonprofits that are all highly-rated organizations vetted by their analyst team.

The author, who wishes to remain anonymous, is a long-time supporter of Charity Navigator at a leadership level. He and his wife do more than donate to the causes they care about--they invest in their future. They dedicate their free time to closely working with the organizations they support to foster growth and innovation. 

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