Over the last 12 years, Vista Global has supported nonprofits across the country to examine whether a strategic alliance or merger was a strategy for increased impact.
When the pandemic began, most nonprofits looked at current reserves to evaluate whether they could weather a 3-6 month downturn in revenue. We are now passing the 6 month mark and all indicators are suggesting that we will be in this stage for at least another 6 months, if not longer.
Can your organization continue to weather this economic situation on its own?
In the 2016 study called the Chicago Nonprofit Merger Project, 25 nonprofit mergers were analyzed from 2004-2014 to identify how trends have shifted over the last 20 years. The study identified that strategic partnerships and mergers are seen as a competitive strategy to support organizations in increasing growth and services. The study saw organizations using strategic partnerships and mergers as a response to market and policy trends to improve their competitive advantage. In addition, many of the organizations in the Chicago study had previous merger experience. In 85% of the cases, the board chair or board members emerged as chief merger advocates.
The Chicago study, maps out the key stages and key questions for evaluation for a strategic alliance and through this process, your organization can make a strategic decision as to how an alliance or merger can advance a shared goal, respond to community need, improve program outcomes, reach more clients and maximize financial resources.
From July 2019 to March 2020, Vista Global guided Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Fox Valley Region and Best Friends of Neenah-Menasha, now known as Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Central Wisconsin (BBBS-ECW), as they explored each stage of a strategic alliance.
When the pandemic took hold, BBBS-ECW was prepared, having already pivoted their organization efficiently and sustainably in several ways.
Recently, BBBS-ECW CEO, Lindsay Fenlon shared with community partners how the recent merger prepared them to navigate COVID-19:
Through the help of community partners, we invested roughly $250,000 into the merger negotiation and integration process. This financial support enabled us to “do it right,” creating a new organization with the ability to pivot efficiently and sustainably in the following ways:
- Operational Systems: We chose to integrate and transition all critical operational systems to cloud-based options, including financial management (Quickbooks Online and online banking), telecommunications (VoIP phone system with virtual meeting, texting, scanning, and information sharing and storage (Office 365, Sharepoint and Onedrive file systems), program database (Salesforce platform), donor database (eTapestry) and board communications (Microsoft Teams). As such, we were able to transition to 100% work remote within 24 hours.
- Technology: In anticipation of the need to work remotely, all staff laptops and technology devices were replaced with camera and microphone enabled laptops with Bluetooth capability. We were able to stay connected to our cloud-based operational systems with no need to wait for additional supplies or materials to facilitate “business as usual.”
- Leadership Capacity: The merger required an organization restructure and we elected to maintain all personnel, focusing on adding more management positions to expand the leadership team. While this initially carried a higher salary impact on our operational budget, we gained additional capacity of leadership-thinkers, poised to strategically tackle the diverse crisis that COVID-19 brought while simultaneously achieving the following two weeks after the Safer at Home order was announced:
- Pivoted 100% of programming to virtual mentoring;
- Transitioned all program processes to virtual, including new enrollments and make-match meetings. The first virtual match was made 10 days after the Safer at Home order went into effect;
- Postponed and restructured fundraising events for optimal revenue retention;
- Designed and implemented a multi-audience communication plan, successfully communicated small wins and big breakthroughs with PR, social media and direct communication to stakeholders
- Developed financial forecasts that allow for 100% retention of employees
- Board Cohesion: The negotiation process required that each board of director associated with the original agencies come together to listen, learn and dream big about the future. Ten days into January, the newly combined board of BBBS met to define a cohesive way of moving the mission forward. Clear board member responsibilities, committees and goals, and communication expectations were defined and refined throughout the first quarter of 2020. When COVID-19 hit, board members were among the first to reach out to BBBS leadership to offer support and empower myself to take drastic action as needed to ensure the organization’s sustainability. As such, I was able to mobilize swiftly to take advantage of federal legislature and operational modifications necessary to best protect the mission of the organization and the safety of the BBBS team.
- Culture of Adaptability and Resiliency: As part of the merger, our team faced the need to embrace change in order to move forward under the umbrella of one unified agency. Policies, procedures, practices, and organizational structure throughout the entire agency were modified as we got use to the adage that “the only thing consistent in life is change.” When the life-altering changes that came with COVID-19 were first coming to light, our team embraced it as just another situation to adapt to. In the weeks since, the staff and board of directors have acknowledged having full confidence in agency leadership and in each other, identifying that the cultural challenges inherent within any merger actually led us to coming together as a dynamic and diverse group of mission-committed individuals with the tools to keep kids connected during a crisis.
In Fall 2020, Vista Global in collaboration with BBBS-ECW, will release a white paper that shares the learnings and key success factors contributing to BBBS-ECW’s merger and how that prepared the organization to navigate COVID-19.
Other Vista Global blogs on nonprofit mergers:
If you are wondering if a strategic alliance or merger might be your organization’s strategy for success, let’s explore the options together.