Blog

Is it Time to Explore a Strategic Alliance or Merger?

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: 

Five Lessons Learned from Nonprofit Partnerships & Mergers

Nonprofits on the Move with Mergers

Tips on Nonprofit Merger Success Through Organizational Cultural Integration

If you are wondering if a strategic alliance or merger might be your organization’s strategy for success, let’s explore the options together.

3 Ways that Defining your Talents Will Help Build your Personal Brand

I recently hosted a “sneak peek” webcast on the topic of personal values and strengths. This offered participants a window into the Vista Leadership Institute programs and the journey of crafting your next chapter.

We start with the broad question of “Who am I?” and “Where are my natural talents?” The CliftonStrengths assessment measures your natural talents from 34 themes and you arrive at the list of your “Top 5”. Continue reading “3 Ways that Defining your Talents Will Help Build your Personal Brand”

Designing Your Life is a Team Sport

Having played team sports since I was 9 years old, I have built the mindset that to be successful, I can’t do it alone.

Although I have built this mindset, I often see with coaching and consulting clients that many people want to do it all on their own.  Whether it is because they haven’t built trust with their colleagues or they feel pressure to bear the responsibility, they are driving with no co-pilot.

If you haven’t heard this African proverb yet, it speaks to the important lesson that I learned at age 9:

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. - African Proverb

As we designed the Vista Leadership Institute Mastermind Program, we built the team into the program DNA.  Why? Because life design is a team sport.

Designing Your Life proposes that this concept of team-building is a profound and necessary part of any creative act.

“Designers believe in radical collaboration because true genius is a collaborative process. We design our lives in collaboration and connection with others, because WE is always stronger than I- it is as simple as that.  When you design your life, you are engaging in an act of co-creation.” — Bill Burnett & Dave Evans

The Vista Leadership Mastermind Program embraces this “true genius” idea and begins with the formation of your design team. Throughout the 7-month program, you will work in pairs and triads, offering and receiving insight. Your team will help push you, asking “what if?” as you create your action plan for the next chapter of life.

You will also have three individual coaching calls with me throughout the program to create an even stronger accountability framework to move along your life’s journey.

Because when things get tough, you need someone to have your back, to help you get up when you get knocked down, AND to do flip flops and cheer you on when you hit it out of the park!

So if you are at a crossroads, asking yourself “what do I want to do next?” and you don’t know where to start… Join the Vista Leadership Mastermind team. We are saving a spot for you so we can co-create your game plan to hit the next 5 years out of the park!

Early bird discount deadline is September 15th.
Payment plans are available! (Email for details)

Your Mastermind Program Starts Now! Apply Today!

How do we actually “Be the Change We Want to See”?

If you have been following my blog over the last few years, you may recall that I wrote a blog series on a course I was taking on Conversational Intelligence (C-IQ) for coaches regarding the impact that neuroscience has on the quality of conversations. The blog series can be found at the bottom of the post titled, Courageous Conversations: The Future is Now.

Skills that I learned in the course were: Being Open to Influence, Priming for Trust, Asking Questions for Which We Have No Answers, Listen to Connect, Conversational Agility and Double-Clicking.

Over the last two years I have been using these skills with coaching and consulting clients to close gaps between intention and impact and to elevate awareness of the power of conversation to transform the world.

This year, I decided to certify as a C-IQ coach. The certification program was an additional six months of course work and a capstone project to demonstrate how I embody conversational intelligence.

During the first few months, it was very challenging to grasp what “embodying C-IQ” really meant.  The dictionary.com definition is “to give concrete form to; express, personify, or exemplify in concrete form.”  

To embody conversational intelligence, we were asked to explore our level of competence along the four stages of competence.

The highest level of competence is “unconscious competence”, which is the level at which we are in flow, when things come so easily that you don’t even think about what you are doing. It becomes second nature.

In C-IQ certification, as coaches we were challenged to go deeper with our learning, adding new conversational essentials, to stretch ourselves to move through the four stages of competence.

New conversational essentials presented were: Making the Invisible Visible, Deconstructing Conversations and Co-Regulating our Conversations — up-regulating oxytocin and down-regulating cortisol. Oxytocin and cortisol are the neurotransmitters triggered when we have either positive or negative conversations.

As I mentioned, I was really struggling with the notion of embodying and then one day, I realized I was TRYING too hard. I wasn’t getting to the flow because I was too much in my head, not in my heart.  When I “loosened up the grip” on learning and leaned back, I started to notice that I was now using these skills not only in my work but in all aspects of my life.

I can see how many of the conversational essentials I learned in 2017 have now become second nature.

I am deconstructing conversations with family and friends. I am raising visibility of conversational patterns that are unproductive in all aspects of my life. I am starting to build the unconscious competence…embodying conversational intelligence.

Conversational Intelligence essentials have helped guide me in all aspects of my life, to be the change I want to see in the world.

Are you experiencing challenging conversations in any area of your life and don’t know how to shift from the patterns that keep you stuck? Are you THINKING about it too much?

To get a sneak peek of how C-IQ can help you transform your conversations, we are offering a free 30-minute webcast and live chat on Conversational Intelligence next week, August 21 @ 12:30pm CDT.  We will offer it again in September, if you can’t make it live.

Join us to begin the journey of transforming your conversations!

 

Transforming Paradigms for 21st Century Leadership

The world is changing more rapidly, in more contexts, than ever before. Technology seems redundant or obsolete just as soon as we understand how to use it. Restaurants open and close, trends change – so often to our surprise, and who knows what television show we should be watching on what streaming service and when? There are viral challenges, new social media platforms, photo apps to age us and others to turn us into rabbits. 

As trends and new apps come and go, we are welcoming more of the world into our smartphone and encountering more diversity, more ideas, more complexity in our workplace. This requires a change in leadership that rejects many paradigms that warn us “but that’s how it’s always done!”  

Leadership strategist Dov Baron writes, “For many in ‘old school’ leadership positions who are unfamiliar with allowing people to really see them, this can, of course, be scary and may even seem threatening.” Some of it might seem daunting, but so much of it is exciting when viewed through the lens of social impact and resources for a more just and sustainable world. But how do we transition from the “old school” to a 21st-century leadership model? Baron can summarize it succinctly: “In a word—by learning.”

Continue reading “Transforming Paradigms for 21st Century Leadership”

Every great nonprofit begins with a great board

This post originally published on June 8, 2016 has been updated.

My experience with nonprofit board governance began in college when I was President of U.C. Berkeley’s Sports Club Council, comprised of 30 different clubs on campus. I had no experience with nonprofit governance. I didn’t realize that my role as Council president was broader than just running meetings. I didn’t have any understanding that the individual club members could and should play a role in strengthening the overall mission of the Council.  Over the course of the past few decades, I have learned a lot about what contributes to a bad, good and great board and why that is important for nonprofit success. If only I knew then, what I know now. 

Continue reading “Every great nonprofit begins with a great board”

The Future of Leadership Development is Now

All year long, I work with organizations, small groups, and individuals to identify their strengths and values, to forge cross-cultural connections, and to expand their conversational intelligence. So why is taking this work from the conference room to an online platform so exciting and so valuable? 

Continue reading “The Future of Leadership Development is Now”