But when does the partnership get to the point where you should consider a merger?
A quick checklist might include:
- The existence of ongoing partnerships (or potential for ongoing arrangements) that cover multiple program areas,
- Essentially aligned missions (ie: desire to serve the same population or cause),
- Similar organizations in adjacent regions,
- There's the potential to strengthen organizational capacity (ie: instead of two Executive Directors trying to do it all, one ED and one Development Director),
- When you have few funders in common, or your common funder(s) would view you as stronger for having joined forces,
- When the new agency will lead to economies of scale, not a bloated bureaucracy,
- When your clients will view the merger in a positive light,
- When the merger will result in expanded services to your clients,
- When one of the organizations is facing a change in leadership (ie: a longtime Executive Director retiring),
- When a merger is the best way to achieve the goals in your Strategic Plan,
- When the merger can be accomplished without leaving any constituencies behind, and
- When the new organization will be stronger and more sustainable than either of the predecessor organizations.
But, the reality is that it is increasingly difficult for small organizations (budgets under $750,000) to operate successfully, and create sustainable funding. As much as I love small, grassroots organizations, sometimes they can better serve their communities as part of a mid-sized agency.
The list above is just a place to start your discussions and soul searching within your nonprofit. You may not meet all of the conditions, and you may have other conditions of your own that lead you to decide to pursue a merger. A merger is the ultimate partnership. It's not to be entered into lightly or without great thought and purpose. But it's not to be feared either.