Christopher Fay


“Leading is an adventure, so be adventurous, and take good care of those who follow and assist you along the way.”

Tell us about your leadership style and how this contributes to your organization’s success. 

I aim to create an atmosphere in which my staff can thrive and perform their best work; an environment in which they can be creative, accountable and rewarded.  This means creating a workplace culture in which there is a strong current in one direction that is positive, affirming, goal-oriented, and strength-based, leaving room for fun and play and the building of strong relationships.  Given that my workplace is a program for homeless families, I want my staff to embody those very characteristics that we hope to instill in our clients: self-confidence, purposeful, goal-driven, joyful and resilient, sprinkled with generous amounts of humor and love for each other. I also know that my personal style and personality must be the most visible manifestation of those qualities.  I cannot ask of my staff anything that I am not willing and capable of doing myself.  So I try and do all of the following: I practice an open door policy regarding concerns or complaints; I readily accept responsibility for errors or misjudgments; I demonstrate a willingness to help with any tasks; I nurture creativity and vision among my staff and give them recognition and praise; I provide opportunities for advancement; I utilize feedback tools to solicit honest and anonymous concerns; I provide rewards in addition to competitive salaries such as generous maternity leave, full health benefits, reimbursements for gym memberships, and paid continuing educational opportunities.  Most importantly, I aim to provide an overarching vision of excellence and continual growth; this means enlisting my staff in visualizing and implementing stronger programs and better measurable outcomes among the homeless families that we serve.  If I do this well, we will have plenty of opportunities to celebrate our collective achievements, which strengthens loyalty and increases the energy and dedication of the entire staff.  I like to equate my leadership style to that of a movie producer.  What is the role of the producer?  The producer is the one who chooses the project and sets the vision, finds the people (writers) to refine the design (screenplay/program design), raises the funds (development), assembles the right cast and crew (HR, hiring), creates an environment in which they can thrive (workplace culture), solves major problems, ensures that the project is completed on time and under budget, reports to the funders, refines the end product (post-production), sells the product (marketing, PR), absorbs the criticism and/or praise, and oversees the long term viability of the product (which for Homestretch means ensuring that our client families succeed long after they have left our immediate care).

What advice would you offer for other nonprofit leaders? 

Be willing to lead and to take responsibility no matter what happens, whether you win big, win small or fail to win at all.  We are role models whether we like it or not; just by stepping to the front of the line, we will be observed and our actions will inspire or deflate the hopes of those behind us.  Have courage; the willingness to engage in something that has great promise, is worth the risk.  Leading is an adventure, so be adventurous, and take good care of those who follow and assist you along the way.  Whatever you achieve, you cannot do it alone, so treat those who help you as worthy of praise and reward.  And finally, be grateful; for leading is a privilege and an honor; although it comes with great hazards, it bears the promise of even greater achievements and of lasting joys.

What does this award mean for you and your organization? 

Every award, whether it comes to me or to Homestretch, provides us with an opportunity to highlight our mission and our achievements.  We believe deeply in what we are doing and how we are doing it; we know from successive independent outcome studies that we are achieving client outcomes that far eclipse what most other homeless programs are doing nationwide.  We hope to become a beacon of light for communities all around the country, showing that they, too, can have as profound an impact upon the lives of homeless families within their own backyards.  This award allows us as an agency to tell our story to new audiences; and it also allows me and members of our staff to engage in training and or site visits to other model programs that are demonstrating innovative and creative solutions from which we draw inspiration and refine what we are doing to better our services to the homeless families who come to us in crisis and despair.  The award gives us a chance to do even better, to help more families, to inspire more communities desperate for inspiration.

Learn more about Homestretch.