Resiliency Profile: Safe Haven Family Shelter

PrintPatmos ( is proud to profile Safe Haven Family Shelter (SHFS), located in Nashville, TN. SHFS is busy preparing to move into its renovated and greatly expanded shelter funded by a $3 million dollar capital campaign.  They emerge from this building and program expansion campaign debt free and busy executing a recently developed business plan. But only four years ago, things were quite different for the organization as they faced high debt and a management situation requiring the board to be heavily involved in day-to-day operations.  They are the feature of our “resiliency profile” for action taken by management and board to deepen its mission impact, examine its operations and scale critical services for families facing homelessness.  Patmos was pleased to work with them in developing their strategic business plan and strengthening key elements of its organizational infrastructure in order to scale critical services. 

Since 1984 Safe Haven Family Shelter (SHFS), a 501(c)3 nonprofit health organization has sought to close a vital gap in Nashville: provide shelter to homeless families.  The only shelter-to-housing program of its kind in Middle Tennessee to accept the entire homeless family, Safe Haven provides comprehensive services, including therapeutic support and case management to connect children and adults to critical resources and skills.  Through a successful track record providing shelter to families for a defined period of time, they have demonstrated their effectiveness in the numbers of families who have been able to obtain – and remain in – housing.  Through a committed board and capable management SHFS has experienced momentum in fund development and building strong partnerships, and is widely seen as a highly reputable nonprofit throughout Middle Tennessee.

In recent years, they have expanded the housing options beyond shelter – a “safe haven” – to include transitional housing and rapid rehousing.  SHFS and its staff are being sought out for their best practices.  Donors have confidence in its programs.   But it wasn’t that many years ago that Safe Haven was struggling operationally and financially.  Board members had to become very involved in day-to-day operations.  With new management direction, committed staff, board leadership, financial disciplines in place, and the financial commitment of key donors, rough waters were navigated.  Entering the final phase of a capital campaign when they occupy the new facilities in June, Safe Haven will more than double the number of families that can be served in the shelter and exponentially increase the number of families served in rapid rehousing and in transition in place models.

With the expanded operations SHFS recognized there is a tremendous “scaling up” in terms of its reach of what will be asked of board to sustain the organization and of staff to deliver programs and manage operations.  Ask Joyce Lavery, Executive Director of SHFS, what she attributes to this success in such a short period of time and she will reply “a committed staff, an engaged board, the timely stepping up of key funders to provide needed momentum, and a dose of good luck.”  An engaged board and the support of key funders are two sure ingredients for nonprofit health.  While it is good to be on the side of luck, it doesn’t provide a stable foundation.  Observe Joyce at work and you will see another ingredient that has attributed to Safe Haven’s success.  Safe Haven is in the spotlight for their commitment to learn and pair the best practices in services that will reduce homelessness with management best practices. 

Building critical capacities to support mission delivery

The following core elements are enabling SHFS to increase its mission impact:

  • Board’s commitment to grow and sustain the organization

With an expanded facility and program, the board recognizes the commitment required on their part for fundraising.  They also recognize that such growth creates an opportunity for the organization to take a leading role in the community on the issue of homelessness.  Board leadership understands a shift is required of them to have a greater strategic focus than what they have had before.  In order to do so, they are becoming more intentional in board development issues through training and exposure to best practices, both in terms of governance and cutting edge practices in reducing homelessness as part of a board member strategy to be part of the “inner circle” of Nashville’s homelessness discussion.  Currently, the board is working with key staff in developing a robust development plan and committing resources to ensure that the organization is executing effectively on new processes (e.g. operations, fund development, volunteers, case management).

  • A clear articulation of the organization’s theory of change

For the first time, Safe Haven has articulated its theory of change, and its theory of change informs its business plan.  A theory of change articulates the assumptions about the process through which change will occur and specifies the ways in which all of the required early and intermediate outcomes related to achieving the desired long-term change will be brought about and documented as they occur.  In understanding the “how” and the “with whom” and the “why” it goes about its work of addressing the community issue of homelessness and connecting this understanding to its fundraising and communications provides Safe Haven with a roadmap for sustainability.  Safe Haven is doing the hard work of defining its social value proposition, developing benchmarks for assessing their social impact, and aligning them with their branding and messaging in communications and fundraising.  In a setting where donors and foundations are demanding transparency, efficiency and measurable social outcomes — and where limited staff will need to be very intentional about where they place their time — a clear theory of change aids their fundraising and serves as a guide on where to focus staff energies.

  • A streamlined set of metrics to track progress

Board and staff are placing greater emphasis on developing, tracking, and assessing program and organizational goals.  This involved a review of their current program objectives in light of the expanded center and best practice models such as rapid rehousing to decrease length of shelter stays.  Safe Haven Board and staff are using a dashboard at as an accountability tool for monitoring staff and board committee execution on priority areas.

  • A staffing and operational plan to support the growth

Working from a common work plan is better enabling SHFS to be structurally sound, fiscally prepared and more programmatically proactive, increasing the overall health of the organization.  With growth in numbers served, Safe Haven examined where the gaps of service and vulnerabilities exist.  With growth, Safe Haven is changing how it operates.  The cultural shift for the staff is to see themselves less as a “family” doing whatever it takes to get the job done and more as a team where staff members are charged with particular tasks.

This is no easy pivot to make in a human service organization where the demand for services is high and life is chaotic. Having developed an annual operational or work plan, the agency is stating what it hopes to accomplish during the year.  It is not relying on its present services or good name to continue along the same path. It is demonstrating internally and externally its priorities and how it will execute on providing services. The operational plan led by leadership is reviewed by both board and staff, representing the confluence of thinking of the board of directors and the staff.

Well done Safe Haven for your commitment to pair management best practices with learning and following best practices in program delivery!