Women of FIRE

Ellen Tan

CEO, Commonwealth Land Trust


Ellen Tan

It call comes back to what her grandmother told her, Ellen Tan said: “When you love one another and take care of each other, everyone prospers.”

Tan, who has spent 22 years with the Commonwealth Land Trust (CLT), is part of a hard-working family of Lebanese immigrants who arrived in the U.S. with very little. “My grandmother taught me from a young age that no one ever has so little that they can’t help someone in need,” she said. “She also taught us that, when a family works together to support each other and the community, it can accomplish great things despite differences of opinion or temperament.”

For Tan, CLT is an extension of family. Its 30 full-time staff and its residents represent different countries, perspectives and opinions, she said, but CLT works toward the common goal of bringing individuals and families out of homelessness and helping them to become productive members of society.

“She can dance with the best of them,” said Ellen Tan’s nominator, Victor MacNutt, a consultant to CLT. And in her words, here’s what that means.

“Being a nonprofit doesn’t mean you don’t have to be mindful of the bottom line,” she said. “The only significant difference between a nonprofit and a for-profit organization is the mission. A nonprofit’s goal is to apply business acumen to direct as much of its revenue to serving the mission. Organizations that don’t cultivate business know-how will often fail and, in failing, fail their mission.”

CLT is a small nonprofit which has found ways to support itself and relies less on public funding than average, according to Tan. Self-management allows CLT to keep 6 percent of revenues that would otherwise be outsourced to third-party managers, to the tune of approximately $200,000 annually. Also, an empowered staff leads to more successful residencies, reduced vacancy loss, prompt rental payments, reduced legal fees and losses, and better property maintenance.

MacNutt, a CPA by trade, noted that CLT had more services and support staff than existing grants could support – but “rather than cutting staff, she went out and found more grants.”

“Homelessness and poverty are expensive,” Tan said. “What Commonwealth Land Trust does benefits everyone in the system, both rich and poor. Our model of providing wrap-around services in supportive housing keeps these people off the street and in an environment in which they no longer burden public resources such as emergency rooms, first responders and the prison system at great expense to taxpayers. Lifting families out of homelessness and moving homeless individuals – many of whom struggle with addictions, mental illness and/or brushes with the law – benefits our neighborhoods, our business districts and taxpayers. No matter your political perspective or values, we can all agree on that. … People who are cared for take care of you, which in our industry means that they take care of the building and pay their rent on time.”



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Ellen Tan

by Christina P. O'Neill time to read: 2 min
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