Could merging help your organization?

Earlier in my career, I was part of a rather large agency that merged with another to create a new entity. 

The rationale for the merger was that: 

  • both organizations had similar missions, i.e. programs serving children and families,
  • one entity would be more effective;
  • and being housed together would lead to more collaboration and be more helpful to our clients. 

While it ultimately was the right direction for the constituents being served, it was a difficult process for the staff and oversight groups – and quite frankly for me!  Each agency had its own culture and way of doing business.   People were concerned about losing their position and/or status in the newly created organization.  There were trust issues – would information shared be used appropriately?    Would my work be valued?   Would the “other” agency be favored?   Would sufficient resources be assigned?  Did others understand the importance of “my” programs?

I remember being scared about would happen to me and the programs I worked on.  I thought that merging might be perceived as a sign of weakness or that it signaled that my agency was troubled.  And I had to let go —  I was deeply attached to my old agency, how it was organized, my colleagues, how we worked together. 

It took time, ongoing communication, and assistance from outside, neutral parties to help create this new organization – before, during and after the process.  Change takes time… was not something that just happened over night. 

My agency did not merge due to leadership or financial issues which according to a recent report from Bridgespan is the typical reason. 

It merged to create a more holistic approach to working with children and families.  Now, more than ever, it is important for each of us to look at what we do and critically ask – is this the best strategy for achieving the outcome?   Who else might help us to meet our mission?   Part of the response to that question may be considering different organization structures and models of delivering services.  But we need to do this not only when there are financial challenges but because it makes sense for the people being served and will allow for greater impact.

Foundation staff is here to listen, exchange ideas and hear your experiences.  We have access to resources and expertise – in addition to grantmaking dollars.  I would encourage you to reach out to foundation staff early in your thinking – keep us informed  — so that we can share what was learned during other consolidations, suggest possible consultants or facilitators, or provide direction on accessing funding.

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