You say consolidate. We say collaborate! 

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by Carolyn Madden

Consolidation, or the combining of a number of things into a single more effective whole, is a word we are hearing a lot in the nonprofit world. Nonprofits are currently experiencing shifts in funding, competition, and changes in consumer behavior. In an effort to save money, increase capacity, diversify revenue, and position themselves competitively, organizations are now being forced to consider sharing services, building partnerships, or merging together.

Yet, when the words “consolidate” and “merger” arise,  many are initially resistant to the notion. While there are various reasons for this, we have found there to be three common themes that arise when organizations are considering a merger: Surviving brand, Surviving Leadership, and Surviving Board. Concerns related to these three issues can dissuade organizations from considering a merger and, in some instances, it can halt merger discussions that have already begun. 

So, lets step back for a moment and approach a merger from a different perspective. While consolidation and merger are often concepts that people are tentative about,  there is a similar word that can be used that has the opposite effect. Collaboration.

Collaboration, or working jointly to produce a desired outcome,  is a word that is widespread in the nonprofit world. It inspires feelings of enthusiasm, determination, motivation, and teamwork, and it is something that nonprofits have been doing for years.

Schools work together to find ways to deliver curriculum creatively when funds are cut and materials must be shared. Human Services organizations work together when a singular organization cannot provide all the services needed by an individual. 

Organizations are constantly working together in a effort to make a difference in our communities and in our world. They are doing whatever it takes to drive their mission, accomplish their goals, and to preserve the value that they add to our quality of life and to the quality of life of those that surround us. 

As such, many organizations have a deep understanding of what they need to collaborate on, when they need to collaborate, and who their partners should be. Having said that, collaboration is often a good starting point when considering a merger. Who you can work with and how that relationship will play out, is in integral part of the merger process. Knowing and understanding this, can often make the concept of a merger and the actual merger process, less overwhelming. 

Having said that, let’s now revisit the three biggest concerns related to mergers in greater detail:

What will the surviving brand be? 
An issue with organizations both new and established, people are often tied to their brand. Brand is, after all, the visual representation of an organization and what they are all about. It makes an organization easily recognizable to those they serve as well as throughout the community. 

In the case of a merger, organizations must work together and decide on branding. For those organizations that have a history of working together, brand and mission familiarity have already been established. This will aid in the process, as individuals may be more amenable to working under a brand they are already familiar with and more focus can be placed on driving organizational goals forward rather than what the final brand will be. 

Who will retain their leadership role? 
Those that hold a leadership role in an organization are often responsible for inspiring and empowering groups of people to carry out that organization’s mission. They are also, independently or collectively, the people that are held the most accountable for an organization’s survival. 

When a merger presents itself as an option to ensure future viability, it is an organization’s leaders that are responsible to doing due diligence. While some leaders may not be familiar with all that a merger entails, most are well aware of how a merger will impact leadership roles. There will be those that retain their position, those that are reassigned, and those that will no longer have a position within the organization.  While the emotions related to this cannot be disregarded, it is important to keep in mind that a merger can often be the primary means of allowing an organization to continue the work they are doing for the betterment of society. 

Who will remain on the Board and how will they govern?
Board members, those individuals that devote their time and energy to ensuring an organization is on track with meeting its goals, are often one of an organization’s most valuable assets. Board members are there because they want to be and many of them have a personal connection to the organization they represent. 

As in integral part of any organization, Boards are not immune from consideration during the merger process. Often, the issue of who will remain on the Board is easily addressed by simply combining the two Boards. If mergers are occurring within the recommended same sector or with organizations within a value chain of activities, this should make for a more seamless combination. 

It is critical for organizations to remember that concerns, such as those discussed above, and emotional attachments can’t outweigh the benefits of a merger. A successful merger will help an organization eliminate competition, acquire talent, save money, expand geographic impact, and improve quality of service, among other countless benefits. Most importantly, a merger can ensure survival in a highly competitive marketplace and allow organizations to continue the positive impact they have on society.