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 Sombrero Are You Wearing?

Over the last 10 years, Vista Global has facilitated training for more than 100 organizations on the 10 responsibilities of nonprofit boards developed by BoardSource, the premier resource for nonprofit governance.

One topic that we explore is the distinction between the fiduciary roles which are the legal responsibilities and the support roles, which are the same as any other volunteer.

The fiduciary roles are guided by case law and guide board members to operate in the best interest of the organization, remain loyal to its mission and oppose operating in their own interest or in the interest of the CEO/Executive Director they supervise.

The support roles include: acting as an ambassador, ensuring resources, offering expertise and contacts and good old, “roll up your sleeves” volunteering.

To have a little fun with what many often perceive as a painfully boring topic, I approach the topic asking, “What Hat Are You Wearing?  This can give board members a visual cue if they are starting to exert authority, or be directive in an area that is really outside their fiduciary governance role.

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to deliver this training for the first time in Spanish to a U.S.-Mexican nonprofit.  The organization is bi-national, legally incorporated in both the United States and Mexico so this training was to help board members understand what their roles and responsibilities were for the U.S. legal entity.

The three hats “sombreros” that Board Members wear are:

Governance Hat: This is the only hat that carries legal authority. It is worn only when in a properly called board or committee meeting with a quorum. Decisions on behalf of the organization are only made wearing this hat.  The CEO is accountable to governing policies set by the board.

Volunteer Hat: This hat has no legal authority.  It goes on when leaving a board or committee meeting. It is worn when advising the CEO. It is worn when fundraising, when helping staff, either alone or in a group, and often under the supervision of the staff.

Implementer Hat: This hat carries limited authority and is seldom worn.  It is seldom worn because staff usually implement board policies.  When it is worn, a board resolution gives a board member authority to implement a specific board action. When that action is completed, the hat is removed.  One example where this hat might be worn, is if an organization is considering purchase of a new property and there is a board member that has real estate expertise.  As long as the board member is given authority to operate on behalf of the organization without personal benefit, she could take on a role to negotiate the transaction. And when the transaction is completed, she removes this hat.

Are you having difficulty figuring out what sombrero you should be wearing? Contact Mary today to explore how to move your organization and board to greatness!

Other blogs on the topic are:

Every Great Nonprofit Begins with a Great Board

What Does Governance Got To Do With It?

Belonging is our birthright: Using Conversational Intelligence® to create radical inclusion

Over the last year, I have had an accelerated awakening of how to engage in the dismantling of the inequities in our society. As I write that statement, I feel a great sense of responsibility to move from learning to action.

As I mentioned in a recent blog, “How do we actually ‘Be the Change We want to See?’”, I recently completed certification in Conversational Intelligence®. This certification strengthened my understanding of the impact that words have in building or dismantling trust. One aspect of completion of the certification was a capstone project.

I challenged myself to explore how to use C-IQ tools and skills in the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) context.  Many of the C-IQ skills have built my capacity to act when I experience or witness microaggressions.  The greatest challenge when experiencing or witnessing a microaggression is to regulate our reaction so that we can educate and raise visibility about bias and move toward establishing equity.

Within .07 seconds of being 10 feet of someone(1), our brain is determining if this person is a friend or foe. If there is any indication of how the person looks, acts, speaks that seems unfamiliar, the amygdala in our brain pumps cortisol to protect us and we go to the primitive section of our brain. The primitive brain saved us from the lions when we were in the earliest stages of human development. Cortisol has a shelf-life of 26 hours(2), leaving a lasting impact on our perceptions.  This is how bias begins to form. We have the capacity to deprogram and unlearn our bias and Conversational Intelligence® provides these tools by examining the neuroscience and the impact words have on our experience.

​I recently attended the Racial Justice Summit hosted by the YWCA Madison with more than 800 participants to deepen my learning through workshops and presentations from nationally-known speakers, Climbing PoeTree and Annahid Dashtgard.

Climbing PoeTree was a powerful duo sharing spoken word, rap and poetry “as a tool to expose injustice, channel hope into vision and make a better future visible, immediate and irresistible.”

Annahid Dashtgard, a Toronto-based educator, led a session highlighting the framework of her recently published book, Breaking The Ocean: A Memoir of Race, Rebellion and Reconciliation.  She approaches EDI work from a lens of belonging:

“Belonging is our birthright. It straddles the individual and systemic levels of existence, toggling between the psychological truth that we are all the same and the political truth that we are divided by access to power.”

Dashtgard believes that we have to regain our wholeness internally before we can work toward changing systems externally. When we experience belonging, we are activating oxytocin and the parasympathetic nervous system which allow us to calm ourselves and shift the external environment. When we feel exclusion, we are in a state of vigilance, activating cortisol and our reactive nervous system.

As I processed Dashtgard’s challenge to the conference participants, I could delineate the C-IQ skills that support the process of building bridges of inclusion and belonging:

Making the Invisible Visible:  Bringing attention to the unseen dynamics and patterns in conversations, and engage in dialogue to shift these patterns.

Deconstructing Conversations: Examine what was said, how it was said and the impact it had on the receiver, in relation to the intention of the sender.

Co-regulation: Partnering to down-regulate cortisol and fear, and up-regulate oxytocin and trust. This skill builds a foundation of co-creating a new reality.

How do we begin? We begin from the basis that we are all the same in wanting to belong. Start with self and understanding: When do I feel like I belong? When do I feel excluded? Once you are able to identify the micro-signals of belonging and exclusion, you are building your social-emotional literacy to give words to your experience.  This gives you the ability to use Conversational Intelligence® skills to move from the personal experience to the institutional and systemic levels to reduce the barriers that create inequity.

The journey of transformation of our global society requires that each of us individually take steps to restore our individual wholeness and collectively shift the external environment. Together we can co-create a culture of belonging.

Together we can co-create a culture of belonging.
Let’s connect to chart our path toward this new reality.

(1) “Within .07 seconds of being 10 feet of someone, our brain is determining if this person is a friend or foe. ” — Page 103 of Conversational Intelligence by Judith E. Glaser
(2) “Cortisol has a shelf-life of 26 hours, leaving a lasting impact on our perceptions.” — Page 104 of Conversational Intelligence by Judith E. Glaser

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!