My last post focused on merger as an organizational growth option, not a last-ditch attempt to survive. Sadly, it's often not considered an option until too late. But it, along with its cousins collaboration and partnership, ought to be in every nonprofit leader's lexicon. How does it make it into the ongoing conversation? Here are a couple of thoughts:
Every year, as an organization is evaluating or updating its strategic plan, part of the conversation should focus on where the organization is in terms of its "life cycle" and what its options are for continued health. I think this kind of discussion goes hand-in-hand with planning, but it could be a stand-alone conversation, as well. It may be a conversation that begins at the staff level, but at some point it must migrate to the board level. Institutionalizing such a conversation is one way to enable people to become comfortable with the fluctuating-- and sometimes inscrutable -- dynamic that is the nonprofit environment.
If approached this way, merger isn't relegated to an end-of-life discussion. Just as some for-profits merge at the height of their success, so too can nonprofits. Does it happen much in the nonprofit world? I don't think so.
I hope that all of us approach collaborations with our eyes wide open based on a well-thought out list of pro's and con's that have been reinforced with many stakeholder conversations. A similar list needs to be developed for merger. We should keep that list in our back pocket against the day we might need to use it.