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Illustration by Jocelyn Ruiz
Maybe Vanilla Ice was on to something when he sang these infamous lyrics. If you are a nonprofit executive then, stop and consider collaboration or a merger. Listen up! Nonprofit executives, as we know, have a lot on their plates to juggle, but at the very top of responsibilities is that of impact. Impact is the driving force of all nonprofit efforts. Nonprofits are created and exist for a specific purpose or mission. In our search to realize our nonprofit’s mission, collaborations and mergers are two strategies that can maximize impact under the right conditions.
Strengths can be amplified and shortcomings can be mitigated through joint efforts. These partnerships have the ability to minimize duplication of efforts and competition for limited resources while increasing their ability to problem solve. Many believe there are too many nonprofit organizations competing for the same donor dollars, resources, and stakeholders. “Are there too many nonprofits?” is a question asked often in the sector. Merging operations can reduce this overcrowding while also increasing stability and reducing overhead. Partnering with another organization can have many benefits, however they need to be executed carefully and appropriately to achieve the desired benefits.
Let’s break down when to consider collaboration or mergers:
Collaborations allow a great entrance into the world of synergy. Working with another organization for a specific goal or project can increase impact when each organization does what they are best at and can work together to solve a problem or fill a need. Collaborations can be temporary or long term. They also can be nimble and responsive to crisis or disasters, collaborations can happen between geographically separated groups in order to serve a population outside one organizations footprint. They work best when missions are complementary or when one program begins where the other ends.
If two organizations missions are overlapping, share similar donors, serve similar populations or if one organization is facing instability, mergers might be the right strategy. Mergers are a commitment. They involve the combining of assets and the fusing of boards. Care should be taken to ensure an advantageous fit.
One study showed that after a recent merger, donations from those who had previously donated to both nonprofits separately were reduced by over 50 percent to the new organization compared to the previous separate donations. Bigger isn’t always better, merged nonprofits might need specialists where a small staff formerly was able to suffice.
Arizona Gives Day is an incredible collaboration of over 913 nonprofits working together to raise funds. During the Spring 2020 Covid-19 pandemic Arizona Gives Day set an all time record raising $6.2 million dollars to help aid nonprofits budgets that were drastically impacted by this global crisis. Partnerships have the ability to do more together than can be accomplished alone.
Like any successful relationship, these partnerships must be founded on respect and trust, both of which take time to establish. Think of a merger in terms of dating. Take the necessary time needed to really get to know each other and how each organization handles daily tasks as well as high-pressure situations. Similar to how most relatives have their opinions about a new relationship, listen to the sincere feedback of all stakeholders about the partnership. When we listen to and partner with other brilliant minds we can accomplish our desired goal of greater impact and make the world a better place, “for you and for me and the entire human race.” (RIP MJ)
Jacquelynn Sokol is a graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University. Sokol co-founded and currently sits on the Board of Directors for Hollow Tree Honey Foundation. She serves as an event chair for her community’s annual fair “Draper Days” and sits on the Mentors International gala fundraising board. She is a mother of 5 young children and stays active hiking in canyons close to her home, long boarding, or doing yoga in the park. She is a lover of good food, music, and art. She enjoys baking bread for everyone she knows and is always willing to try anything once. Her nonprofit journey was featured in an ASU Now story in May 2020.