Issue 71 - Fall 2022
I was delighted when Pro Bono Partnership of Ohio asked me to join Matthew Loftus and Aaron Shepherd, two of its volunteer attorneys, for a webinar on strategic partnerships. While corporate and nonprofit combinations are different in many ways, it has been rewarding to learn how aligned the three of us are in terms of mission sustainability, group dynamics and goals. Matt and Aaron are knowledgeable, highly experienced and have great senses of humor, a requirement in any partnership exploration. Please join us for this conversation on September 15. To learn more and register, please click here.

And congratulations to FamiliesFORWARD and Learning Grove for their recent merger. I have seen few joint Steering Committees work so tirelessly to ensure the preservation of solid programs to enhance the lives of our children and families.
Are you ready for the call?
The best partnerships come from opportunity, not necessity. The opportunities arise in many ways but usually begin with a phone call from one CEO to another. Or a board member of one organization learns in casual conversation with a board member of another nonprofit that both organizations are dealing with similar issues and strategic goals. These conversations usually result in one party asking, "Have you ever considered..." and the exploration takes off.

Many leaders do not think about a partnership until an opportunity presents itself, then they find themselves unprepared to evaluate the idea. A savvy nonprofit has already established criteria to quickly assess the potential. Ideally, discussions at the board level have solidified criteria so trustees and senior staff can remain alert to possibilities.

Regardless of what type of partnership you are considering, being clear about best case scenarios, non-negotiables and issues that are open for discussion will make the process easier and far more effective. Four key points follow:

Look ahead. Consider what a combined organization might look like and ask what missing services you could offer. With the board-driven criteria in mind, think about how a partnership could enhance your ability to deliver client services. What would make you jump at an opportunity? To answer this, list your dream scenario, including things such as reputation, strong organizational leadership and financial stability.

Identify your core values. Organizational values are usually discussed during a strategic planning process, then can easily move to the back of everyone's mind during the press of daily work. To be able to respond to a partnership opportunity, these core values must be reviewed, clarified and communicated on a regular basis. Knowing which are most important will make it easier to evaluate an opportunity.

Know your non-negotiables. What must you have? No matter how open to change you and your board are, there are certain things you simply cannot compromise for the integrity of the nonprofit. These are unique to each agency and may include such things as mission alignment, staffing, funding sources, or who will be the CEO. As I've learned in my work, sharing these with your partner should occur early in the process, so it helps to know the issues before you begin.

Know what you have to offer. An honest assessment of organizational strengths and weaknesses must be conducted before responding to an opportunity. Ultimately, you will communicate why you are a good fit for the other organization but be realistic about your limitations. You may have strong programming, but no succession plan. Or perhaps you have great facilities but lack financial acumen. To effectively negotiate during a partnership exploration, self-awareness and a willingness to share are critical.

Keeping the above in mind will help you be more nimble when you do receive the call. But instead of sitting back and waiting, develop a list of potential partners that meet your criteria and initiate a call yourself. With clarity and foresight, you'll be well prepared for possibilities.
Five Merger Myths

I frequently hear some of the following statements about nonprofit mergers, myths that are both inaccurate and chilling to collaborative efforts:

Myth One. We'll see an immediate financial gain. The exploration process itself is expensive. If groups decide to combine, multiple expenses follow. These may include such things as attorney fees, facility renovations, marketing and signage, and changes in benefits. It is highly unlikely that any financial improvement will be realized for a couple of years and the key to managing this is accurate, realistic forecasting.

Myth Two. The staff will leave. While a staff member or two may leave as a result of adjusting to a new supervisor or new job duties, a merger typically results in an energized workforce and the addition of employees. The goal of expanded or new programs may not be supported by current staff, either because of lack of time or content expertise. A larger footprint and expanded program width often mean nonprofits can apply for funding for which they were not previously eligible, resulting in the need for additional staff members.

Myth Three. Donors will stop giving us money. Most donors do not withhold dollars because of an acquisition or merger. Surprisingly, some donors actually increase the amount they give because they see the potential of the combination. Creating and following a solid communications plan is the best way to ensure this ongoing relationship. Regularly share information during the integration of the two organizations and maintain contact with them. When they see the vision realized, they are likely to continue financial contributions at the same or a higher level.

There may be a handful of critical donors who should know about the potential combination earlier in the process, before the boards vote. After reviewing the need for confidentiality, you want them engaged through the exploration phase and never want to surprise them at the last minute. They also will offer invaluable suggestions in terms of other audiences and the political scene.

Myth Four. We'll lose other funding. This is one of the first concerns that comes up early in discussions. If a funder already gives money to both organizations, will they continue to give the same amount when the nonprofits combine? In my experience, funders do not reduce the total investment because of corporate integration. If anything, having a larger footprint and expanded programming may result in additional funds.

Myth Five. This is all about our leader's ego. I'm sure there are self-absorbed CEOs who explore partnerships for their own glory, just as there are self-absorbed consultants, CFOs and program experts who do the same. The leaders with whom I have worked have, in fact, worked tirelessly to preserve their missions and the well-being of their staffs with little regard to their personal security or professional goals. I have been moved and often surprised by the willingness of these professionals to focus on client needs first-- we are deeply indebted to them.
"I want you to know that I have appreciated you throughout this process. You are truly in the right job! You are great at this!"
-- Executive Director

"You were a tremendous value in helping us get to this important milestone.
-- Merger board member

"Once again, brilliant advice delivered in a captivating read!"
-- Executive Director, state organization
I can heartily recommend the following:

"The Church of Baseball" is made for anyone who loves movies as well as the game. Ron Shelton wrote the screenplay and directed the movie "Bull Durham," which is considered the best baseball movie ever made. The details of his book about the process are great fun.

Fresh Water for Flowers, a novel by Valerie Perrin, contains the most beautiful language I've seen in a long time. The book captures themes of death, grief and friendship and I found myself sharing many quotes from it.

In need of some political sanity, I inhaled The Trials of Harry S. Truman: The Extraordinary Presidency of an Ordinary Man, 1945-1953 by Jeffrey Frank. While I've read other books about Truman, this one brought new insights into his personal relationships and challenging governance issues.

A friend sent Violeta by Isabel Allende and I quickly became caught up in the story of the character's life. The author offers a compelling read as she describes Violeta's path across decades and any reader will be cheering for her.

Want something lighter but not trivial? Love and Saffron charmed me with its description of two women sharing their lives through letters and recipes. Kim Fay provides just the right touch.
Webinar Announcement
 Sustaining the Mission:
Nonprofit Combinations and Other Strategic Partnerships Webinar
September 15, 1:00 - 2:00 p.m.
·   Marta Brockmeyer, Ph.D., Nonprofit Partnership Consultant
·   Matthew Loftus, Esq., P&G Senior Director & Associate General Counsel-Global Transactions
·   Aaron Shepherd, Esq., P& G Director & Assistant General Counsel - Corporate & Securities
Presented by: Pro Bono Partnership of Ohio
Given current challenges facing community-based nonprofits, it is increasingly important for leadership to assess how more formal partnerships, including strategic combinations with other organizations, might help preserve and enhance their missions. The overview of key topics include:

  • Key indicators of organizational health and readiness to collaborate, including cultural components, that boards should consider.

  • An overview of the exploratory process to determine the desirability of a partnership.

  • The legal options for structuring a partnership or more formal combination and the benefits and drawbacks of each.
This webinar will help leaders assess how their own organization is positioned to face the future, and what they need to do to get ready for the next step. This webinar is intended for CEOs/Executive Directors, CFOs/Finance execs, COOs, and Board Members.
Cost: Free
Location: Online Zoom Webinar
Registration: Advance registration is required to receive the webinar viewing link. Registration closes on Wednesday, September 14. The webinar viewing link will be emailed to all registrants the day prior to the event.
End Point
Aptly put by Oscar Wilde: "And all at once, summer collapsed into fall." If you aren't ready to trade your margarita for a pumpkin spice latte, be sure to take advantage of the last bit of the summer season and enjoy all it has to offer. Wishing you happy transitions in seasons and in life.
Best wishes,
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