Like many of you, I have attended a lifetime of webinars in the past nine months. While they all provided great insights, one hosted by Bridgespan Group provided a useful framework on mergers and collaborations that’s definitely worth sharing.
With Charitable Advisors supporting about one merger/collaboration a year, we are familiar with the ins and outs of these unions. Yet, we view each potential arrangement as unique with many factors to be explored. Leaders who have not been engaged in these types of discussions may easily dismiss nonprofit mergers as a “financial and legal transaction.” However, they are much more akin to building a “relationship of trust” — ensuring that clients will continue to be served well, staff will be retained and supported, and funder/donor obligations will be honored.
During its webinar, a panelist introduced the M.A.K.E.R. framework, one that can help your organization think through your own readiness for a potential match with another nonprofit. Here is an overview of the questions to ask under the M.A.K.E.R. framework:
Mission – What are we seeking to accomplish? What are our aspirations for the people we serve? Are we seeking similar outcomes? Do we have similar values?
Assets – Hard assets are the easiest to count (real estate, reserve funds) but soft assets might be the most important (board and staff leadership, expertise, intellectual property, reputation, funder relationships, social media presence). How could these be combined and leveraged to accomplish more?
Keepers – Culture, work rhythms and expectations, board/staff dynamic. What are the “must haves” if we were to join forces? What would we not give up or not allow to happen? This is easy to overlook in the early conversations when everyone is enthralled with the idea and perceiving similar thinking. Issues pop up later when choices need to be made to do things “our way,” “your way” or a “new way”.
Event – Why now? Most completed mergers are initiated by an event that is disrupting the status quo - an upcoming leadership transition, a funding opportunity or impending loss, a change in community needs, or the imminent closing of a nonprofit. It is often difficult to generate enough energy or political will to make a major change without some driving event.
Reality – What do we know about ourselves and the other party? Are we both self-aware enough and trusting enough to admit our weaknesses and needs in addition to our strengths and assets? Is our reputation not that stellar, is our ED not that solid? How does a combination create an organization that can produce a bigger impact?
Consider this in two parts:
- How would your organization, independent of a partner, detail your responses to these questions?
- Think about a nonprofit that you or someone on your team have mentioned as a potential community partner and try to gauge what their responses might be to these questions.
You may find that you have a partner right in front of you or that you are looking in the wrong place. This could prompt you to seek a partner who is more mission aligned and complementary without looking as much like you.