The Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance

How does a nonprofit best leverage a large and complex new project that has the potential to affect its overall mission, programming, staff capacity, and fundraising?


In 2012, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts selected the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance (MHSA), a 2009 Root Cause Social Innovator, to be the intermediary for a “Pay for Success”—also known as “Social Innovation Financing”—initiative aimed at housing chronically homeless individuals in Massachusetts. Like other organizations venturing into uncharted territory, MHSA needed help thinking through the strategic and organizational implications of the Pay for Success initiative, which has the potential to increase MHSA’s funding significantly and expand the organization’s impact. MHSA President and Executive Director Joe Finn needed help considering how to fully leverage this new opportunity—and how best to lead MHSA during this time of growth.

Project Overview

Root Cause conducted an organizational assessment that included group interviews with MHSA staff to hear their perceptions of the opportunities and challenges the Pay for Success initiative would bring. From the assessment, our consultants helped MHSA define the key questions that needed to be answered to make the most of the new venture. Additionally, our CEO Andrew Wolk held weekly calls with MHSA President and Executive Director Joe Finn to discuss immediate challenges—both internal and external—as MHSA negotiated the Pay for Success contract. The weekly coaching sessions strengthened Finn’s ability to strategize about navigating the political waters, meeting organizational challenges, and leading MHSA through a period of profound and exciting change.


Root Cause prepared a final memo for MHSA that clearly outlined the key issues that needed to be addressed in order for the organization to fully leverage the opportunity presented by the Pay for Success initiative. The issues were organized into three categories: 1) how staff and organizational capacity will be affected by the Pay for Success initiative; 2) how MHSA defines its focus and develops its programs; and 3) how MHSA communicates its work to potential donors and funders. MHSA has used the memo to guide the beginning of important changes to its operations as the Pay for Success initiative moves forward.

Relevant expertise and smart problem solving tools.


Ending Chronic Homelessness

This report includes an overview of the social issue, an investment recommendation, information on the return on investment, and ways to take further action. Read More READ MORE

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