Culture, vision, and people are some of the most important factors when considering a merger or strategic affiliation. This was a key takeaway for attendees at the Strategic Affiliation panel and networking event held at The Forbes Funds on Wednesday March 2nd. Approximately 40 nonprofit executives gathered to hear from four expert veterans of mergers and partnerships.
Ann Truxell, of Vintage Senior Services, recently led a process to enter into a subsidiary-parent relationship with Family Links. She said they engaged the whole staff in order to learn everyone's top values. "Know what your non-negotiables are," she said.
Fred Massey, CEO of Family Links, agreed. "What are the things within yourself that you can't give up? Put your non-negotiables up front."
Truxell also shared three key lessons for nonprofits considering a merger or alliance.
First, it's a lot of work. "As much work as you think this may be, it's more than that," she said.
Second, this process takes courage. "You're asking your board of directors to do a really scary thing; you're asking them to change the history of an organization."
Third, make sure to manage expectations. It's important to be very truthful and very transparent, she said.
The most important thing to examine when considering an affiliation is cultural compatibility, said Massey of Family Links. "Even though it may look right with the numbers on paper...one of the biggest things to be taken into consideration is cultural fit."
David Fenoglietto, President and CEO of Lutheran Senior Life, shared many of the technical details to consider when exploring mergers and affiliations. There are three things to ask when considering a merger, he said: if you have the ability to add value, if you have the business appetite for growth and affiliation, and if you have the capabilities to merge and integrate.
Don Goughler, former CEO of Family Services of Western PA and currently executive-in-residence at The Forbes Funds, emphasized the importance of each organization's staff and clients in an affiliation process.
"This is about people. It's not about the mechanics of doing it, it's about what happens to all those people," he said. "Do you have strategy to make their lives better?"
Goughler has led three different affiliation processes in his career, including the consolidation of two agencies; the acquisition of programs and establishment of new two corporations; and the acquisition and merger of two service agencies into Family Services.
He emphasized the importance of being as open as possible with staff. The way to do it is through "open engagement of everybody," he said. "Share everything except the confidential stuff."
Attendees found the panel informative and useful. "The session was great!" said a participant, "it's a better way to present our merger discussion with my board."
"It was very helpful to understand the complexity of the process" said another participant.
Kate Dewey, president of The Forbes Funds and the panel's moderator summed up the day's advice. "It's gotta be with people who have a shared vision and who you trust."
Organizations interested in learning more can access the session's resources on the event page.