AIS owns and operates four small apartment buildings in the following Toronto neighborhoods: Riverdale; Beaches; Annex and Downtown Toronto.
AIS offers support services to persons with mental health challenges who have experienced homelessness. Our multi-disciplinary team approach includes: supportive counselling; addiction services; nutritional programming; hoarding and bed bug management; community development; and trauma and &spiritual care.therapy.
Marissa has been the Executive Director of AIS for 30 years.
What is the size of your team?
We have 10 directors on our board and 18 staff.
What type of board is it?
Policy board – board members provide AIS with guidance and consultation.
What are you looking for in new board members?
We need directors with expertise in different areas: communications, board governance, housing policy, legal/law, finance and property development to name a few.
A third of our board members are consumers/survivors, as it is important to have tenants as part of our leadership and decision-making.
What are the challenges finding board members?
Our challenges are finding directors with property management and fundraising expertise. It took us a long time to search and find the right candidates in both areas because people in property management and real estate typically work many evenings and weekends and have limited free time. They don’t want to spend their time off dealing with fundraising or property management issues. Luckily we are able to find board of directors with the experience we need who are also passionate about the causes of homelessness and mental health.
Do you have a director nomination process?
We have a succession plan. We have a chart that identifies how long each director will be with us. Generally, the directors who are moving on will introduce us to new candidates from within their networks.
Many of our directors have come through Altruvest. For example, at the last Schulich School of Business/Altruvest “Get on Board” recruitment event, nine people expressed interest in the AIS Board. A number of those candidates were recruited to our board or to other volunteer committee positions.
The interview process for board recruitment is formalized. First, I do telephone screenings of the candidates, then select a short-list to meet with a member of the executive committee (usually the chair) and myself. We are looking for people who are sensitive to homeless people and mental health issues. They need be passionate about this area of work.
What are the biggest challenges for new board members?
New board members need to absorb a lot of information about AIS, we aren’t just a service organization but also a property owner. New board members are introduced to areas like property management, risk, support services, the mental health system and a complex funding model – we get funds for a lot of different places.There are so many components to our program, my challenge is to provide new board members with all the information they need to be effective without scaring alarming them.
New board members attend an orientation meeting and are given an orientation package that includes the board manual, relevant materials,previous board minutes, bylaws and our mission.
We also invite board members on building tours and summer barbeques with our tenants.
How has Altruvest helped AIS?
By providing board orientation and training with BoardMatch Leaders in-person training and BoardMatch Fundamentals online orientation,.cCandidates from BoardMatch already know about governance structure so they are well educated about non-profits when they start on a board.
BoardMatch does a really great job of matching candidates to agencies who need a certain skill set.
Why should professionals join a board?
It is rewarding work. It is the opportunity to join the non-profit field, learn how an organization runs operates and learn about issues like mental health and how programs help persons who have experienced homelessness..
People working in the private sector are not exposed to the consensus-driven non-profit working model. Board members from the private sector can get frustrated by how slow it is to get things done, but you are rewarded with meaningful and direct impact of what you do.
It is an opportunity to work with people with different skills sets and lived experience. Where else can an architect sit with someone who has experienced homeless and make decisions together to get something done?
You can see the differences you make by providing people with homes and mental health support. For those from the corporate world, who feel like their work doesn’t have impact, they make a difference here at AIS. They become part of the decision-making process to help the agency move ahead and they can see the difference it makes to people’s lives.
Learn more about AIS and their work at the AIS website.
Thanks, Marissa for taking the time to speak with us.