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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.

What We Can Learn from Our Worst Conversations

Judith Glaser’s 7-month course on Conversational Intelligence offers new and improved methodologies for effective communication that you can apply to both work and life situations. “Conversations are the social rituals that hold us together, the fabric of culture and society.” — Judith E. Glaser The course section on “Humanizing Conversations” explores how to down-regulate the … Continue reading “What We Can Learn from Our Worst Conversations”

Judith Glaser’s 7-month course on Conversational Intelligence offers new and improved methodologies for effective communication that you can apply to both work and life situations.

“Conversations are the social rituals that hold us together, the fabric of culture and society.”
— Judith E. Glaser

The course section on “Humanizing Conversations” explores how to down-regulate the behaviors that create distrust and up-regulate behaviors that build trust. No matter what we do in our professional lives, trust is the most important element in achieving extraordinary results. Trust is something that I have explored over the last 15 years through leadership development work. I always believed that listening was the most powerful skill to build trust.

Humanizing Conversations
Conversational Intelligence takes the skill of listening, a step further by providing more texture to “listening.”  Glaser uses the concept, “deconstructing conversation” which looks back to look forward. Examine a conversation after the fact to garner new insights. In the first few moments of contact in a conversation, our brain will determine whether to trust the other person. If that impact “feels good,” we will move in the direction of opening up to more interactions. If that impact “feels bad,” we will close down and move into protective mode.

In the deconstruction process, here are a few questions for exploration and learning.

  • Was either person addicted to being right?
  • Did you experience the “Tell-Sell-Yell” syndrome? (Tell them once, try to sell them why you are right, then yell!)
  • Did you ask questions that you already knew the answers to?

If you said YES to any of these questions, you were operating from the primitive brain (amygdala) pumping cortisol, keeping you in a protected distrust state.

So how do you shift from this part of the brain that is being triggered by threatening behaviors? The very first step is to recognize the neurological response and find ways to head off the fears. Understand where the fears may be coming from, work backward to find a solution.

How do we sideline these signals from the amygdala?

  • Notice how we react to threats (fight, flight, freeze, appease)
  • Acknowledge this reaction
  • Notice if we always choose the same reaction and how much the threat impacts us
  • Choose an alternative way to react in the moment (mindfulness techniques: breath in, breath out, express how you are feeling)
  •  Become more aware of our responses and realize we can override our emotions and shift to other responses
  • Ultimately transform fear into trust

Stay tuned for more tips to have meaningful conversations that transform leaders and organizations!

This is the second in a blog series. Read the first blog at “Listening to Connect.”

 

Photo credit: Rawpixel via Shutterstock.

Listening to Connect: Neuroscience, Coaching, and Conversational Intelligence

As a credentialed coach, it’s important to stay educated on new and improved methodologies that resonate with clients. Recently, I began a 7-month course on Conversational Intelligence, (also known as C-IQ) facilitated by Judith E. Glaser. The curriculum explores how parts of the brain influence the outcome of conversations. Just two weeks in, I can … Continue reading “Listening to Connect: Neuroscience, Coaching, and Conversational Intelligence”

As a credentialed coach, it’s important to stay educated on new and improved methodologies that resonate with clients. Recently, I began a 7-month course on Conversational Intelligence, (also known as C-IQ) facilitated by Judith E. Glaser.

The curriculum explores how parts of the brain influence the outcome of conversations. Just two weeks in, I can already tell how valuable this will be for my clients.  As a coach, I recognize that if clients are in fight/flight mode, it is very difficult for them to find solutions to any problems. Now I have language and context for why.

Harnessing Your Executive Brain

When we are in flight/flight mode, we are operating from our primitive brain, generating cortisol that shuts down our ability to be creative, strategic and engaged. So where do we want to operate from and how do we get there?

The prefrontal cortex (the area of the third eye) is called the executive brain. If an interaction feels safe, we produce oxytocin, which allows us to relax and create a state of trust. This gives us access to empathy, strategic thinking and innovation. When we are able to operate from this place in the brain, we begin to see opportunities for co-creating solutions together.

Listening to Connect

We move from protecting our own self-interest to creating a “WE-centric” way. The first step is: listen to connect. This is not a concept gaining traction just in the coaching field. There has been research published in Harvard Business Review on the power of connecting first.

In Judith’s words, “Everything happens through conversation. Coaches hold the key for transformation of humanity.”

Helping You Get to the Next Level

As we move through the modules, I will share some key “ah-has” and will incorporate these tools into my new coaching offerings that will roll out in Spring 2017. Stay tuned for more tips to have meaningful conversations that transform leaders and organizations.

Interested in coaching? Learn about the coaching process and more!

 

Photo credit: Rawpixel via Shutterstock.

Nonprofits on the Move with Mergers

Too often discussions around nonprofit partnerships and mergers focus on the financial drivers. For example, one nonprofit may be in crisis and rather than shutter operations, it seeks to form a new organizational structure with another, more financially robust organization. But there is another important reason nonprofit leaders should consider exploring partnerships: mission impact. This … Continue reading “Nonprofits on the Move with Mergers”

Too often discussions around nonprofit partnerships and mergers focus on the financial drivers. For example, one nonprofit may be in crisis and rather than shutter operations, it seeks to form a new organizational structure with another, more financially robust organization.

But there is another important reason nonprofit leaders should consider exploring partnerships: mission impact. This plays out in a variety of ways.  If you are successful in achieving your mission, then it stands to reason that over time, your mission may need to evolve. Or perhaps your client population has shifted dramatically with the region’s changing demographics? Or better still, what if the social problem your organization originally formed to address dramatically improved or changed?

Lessons from San Francisco and Beyond

Such pivots are currently apparent in the nonprofit subsector of HIV/AIDS-related services. Many nonprofits, founded 30 years ago, focused on an acute public health crisis impacting a smaller demographic segment of the population. But over the decades, as new drug treatment modalities became available and as the disease spread across other demographic segments, the service models and organizations had to adapt to the chronic, long-term needs associated with supporting HIV positive clients.

This summer, the San Francisco Chronicle and Nonprofit Quarterly reported how “Clients have gone from young men who were dying at 25 to older patients who, at 55, are still living. Currently, more than half of the people with HIV in San Francisco are 50 or older. Improved safer sex practices and advances in drug therapies and medical treatments have shrunk the client base dramatically; some agencies serve half the number they did in the mid-1990s.”

These trends have led some nonprofits to shift focus. For example, food services for clients have evolved to serve healthier food for those also living with diabetes and heart disease. Other nonprofits have merged together to provide a range of services around housing, mental health, or substance abuse prevention, in addition to HIV/AIDS-related support.

The need for HIV/AIDS nonprofits to refocus their operations has not been limited to the San Francisco Bay Area. New partnership models, collaborations, and mergers have taken place throughout the U.S. For example, Vista Global supported the cultural integration process for the merger of the AIDS Network and AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin.

Photo: AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin (ARCW). Grand Opening of new Medical Home. June, 2016.
Photo: AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin (ARCW). Grand Opening of new Medical Home. June, 2016.

Exploring the Implications for Other Sectors

The rapid changes in the HIV/AIDS-related space offer lessons that can be applied across sectors. For example, to survive the wake of the Great Recession, arts nonprofits explored a range of collaborations.  City government agencies are considering mergers as well, as highlighted by the recent merger of the offices of Homelessness and Welfare for New York City.

With the fallout from the U.S. housing crisis, social service nonprofits also have to pivot as the face of the homeless population changes. Currently, Vista Global is working with four nonprofits serving the homeless population to explore program collaboration and merger options.

Are the leaders of your nonprofit considering a program collaboration or merger? Share your story in the comments section below or contact Mary today to learn more.

Coaching Helps You Tell Your Story

Crafting a personal tile is a fun way to express your story and future goals. A great exercise to help focus your life and career coaching, the tile itself can be made from cardboard, paper, fabric, or any two-sided material.  Get creative! Getting Starting with Side 1 of Your Personal Tile The first introspective step … Continue reading “Coaching Helps You Tell Your Story”

Crafting a personal tile is a fun way to express your story and future goals. A great exercise to help focus your life and career coaching, the tile itself can be made from cardboard, paper, fabric, or any two-sided material.  Get creative!

Getting Starting with Side 1 of Your Personal Tile

The first introspective step in this exercise is to craft your personal narrative. To complete Side 1, you’ll need to decide what words define and describe your personal story, from your origins to you current journey.

Begin at the top of your tile and write your name, birthplace, and favorite food.

Then, write the numbers 1 through 6 down the left side of the tile, under your name.  This portion of the tile will be used for your Six-Word Introduction.

Channel Your Inner-Hemmingway

You may have heard the legend that Ernest Hemmingway was once asked to write a novel in six words. His reply was “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.” With those six words, Hemmingway conveyed a sad tale of love and loss.

The first step in your Personal Tile exercise is to craft six words that describe your personal story. The words can be fun and cheeky, or serious and heartfelt. The most important aspect is to describe yourself.  Here are some examples:

  • Love drama. Just not my own.
  • Legacies are the people you touched.
  • Without work, what would I do?
  • Laboring more at love than anything.
  • I knew nothing, I felt everything.
  • I’m happiest when I’m outside.
  • My small stories have big plots.

You can find these examples and more at the Six-Word Memoir archive.

Plotting Your Goals with Side 2 of Your Personal Tile

Every Vista Global discovery coaching session explores 6 key themes. Building on the work done in your initial coaching session, use the tile to write out your reflections on each theme.

TileSide2image

Draw 2 concentric circles on your tile. Then draw a line to dissect the inner circle into 2 halves. Then, draw 4 lines to create four sections of the outer circle.

  1. Values: The values that I confirmed in the discovery coaching session
  2. Strengths: My Top 5 strengths
  3. Contribute: What do I commit to contributing to the process?
  4. Learn: What do I want to learn as we move through my journey?
  5. How do I work: How do I work well? What allows me to do my best work?
  6. Leave With: At the end of my coaching sessions, what do I want to leave with?

Participants of Vista Leadership Academy kick-off their journey with this Personal Tile exercise in addition to a robust curriculum for goal setting. If you’re interested in learning more about the Academy or about Vista Global’s coaching services, contact Mary today!

Be a coach, not a boss.

Are you struggling to motivate your team or cohort of grantees? Do employees at your organization complain of an “us vs. them” management atmosphere? Do your company’s entry-level positions, most often staffed by young Millennials, turnover often? As a leader, you need to rely on principles that get the most out of each member of … Continue reading “Be a coach, not a boss.”

Are you struggling to motivate your team or cohort of grantees? Do employees at your organization complain of an “us vs. them” management atmosphere? Do your company’s entry-level positions, most often staffed by young Millennials, turnover often?

As a leader, you need to rely on principles that get the most out of each member of your team. So stop being their boss and start being their coach. From the perspective of a coach, you can create a dream team with positive lasting impact.

VGCC-coachboss

Play to Strengths

Don’t focus on managing down. Instead, as a coach, spot each team members’ strengths, see how those strengths complement the strengths of other staff, and play to those combined strengths for shared success. Tom Rath, author of StrengthsFinder, writes “People have several times more potential for growth when they invest energy in developing their strengths instead of correcting their deficiencies.”

Calling the Next Generation off the Bench

As a new generation enters the workforce, leading as a coach has never been more important. Recent Gallup research shows that Millennials are seeking fulfillment in work over faith or family. In fact, young workers place more value on opportunities to learn and grow over income. To avoid younger staff leaving or checking out, coach and guide them to find passion in their work.

Where to Start

Ready to lead as your organization’s inspirational coach but don’t know where to begin? Take the first step by learning more about your teams’ strengths. Vista Global offers StrengthsFinder coaching designed for teams who are looking to build on each other’s skills. Contact Mary today and begin your journey from boss to coach.

Image source: Partial infographic excerpt from “The difference between a boss and a leader” by J. Shriar, Officevibe.com

Every great nonprofit begins with a great board.

Vista Global offers a variety of workshops and trainings. But the high demand for trainings on board governance remains constant.  Board members are hungry for guidance on defining their roles and responsibilities. Board development is not a simple one-time activity, but a continuous cycle of self-reflection and self-improvement. In our workshops, we explore different governance … Continue reading “Every great nonprofit begins with a great board.”

Vista Global offers a variety of workshops and trainings. But the high demand for trainings on board governance remains constant.  Board members are hungry for guidance on defining their roles and responsibilities. Board development is not a simple one-time activity, but a continuous cycle of self-reflection and self-improvement.

board-meeting

In our workshops, we explore different governance models and their benefits. Some organizations thrive using the Policy Governance Model designed by Dr. John Carver.  While other nonprofits may benefit more from Community-Engagement Governance, a framework designed by Judy Freiwirth, that shares governance responsibility across the organization’s constituents, community members, staff and board.

Another key component of these trainings is the importance of a great working relationship between the Executive Director and Board Chair.  In fact, certified mediator and consultant Joan Garry believes the relationship between the Executive Director and Board Chair “tells you more about the health of a nonprofit than any other single factor.”

Best practices don’t end with the board members sitting around the table, either.  Board members have a responsibility to identify and recruit the future board leaders, too. Our workshops explore the entire board development life cycle.

Your organization is only as healthy and effective as your board. Interested in learning more about nonprofit governance? Read more about Vista Global’s workshop offerings and contact Mary today!