Two nonprofit sector champions, Nora Hannah and Carrie Harlow, share their expertise on nonprofit mergers and alliances, shedding light on the complexities, opportunities, and insights and adding their experiences which emphasize the importance of collaboration, setting realistic expectations, and engaging skilled facilitators to navigate the process successfully. Nora Hannah is the director of Arizona Together for Impact, a collaboration of funders that supports nonprofits in their efforts to collaborate. Carrie Harlow is the director of the Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative, a pooled fund supported by local foundations that invests in nonprofit resiliency during moments of transition.
The conversation begins with an exploration of the spectrum of partnerships in the nonprofit sector, including alliances, joint programs, shared services, and integrations of organizations. The guests emphasize that collaboration is a broad concept and that mergers represent only a small portion of the partnerships they fund. They highlight the value of engaging in collaborative efforts to leverage resources and have a greater impact.
Host Julia Patrick asks whether organizations typically approach them for help or if they proactively identify potential partnerships. The guests explain that while they encourage organizations to see collaboration as a strategic tool, it is crucial for the relationships to start authentically among nonprofit leaders and board members. They emphasize the importance of balance and caution against overly prescriptive matchmaking by funders, as outcomes are often better when relationships develop naturally.
The discussion then shifts into the process of effective partnerships and collaborations. Carrie Harlow outlines a chronological approach, starting with getting buy-in from the board and conducting organizational assessments. She emphasizes the importance of identifying what each organization brings to the partnership and what they seek, considering factors such as revenue streams, programming models, and target populations. The guests also stress the need for an environmental scan to identify potential partners strategically.
The conversation explores challenges and considerations in collaborative efforts. The guests acknowledge the emotional aspect and power struggles that can arise during the process. They emphasize the importance of facilitators who can navigate these challenges, build trust, and keep the focus on the larger goal of serving the community. They also address the potential challenges of integrating boards, particularly when founder syndrome or resistance to change is present.
Julia raises the question of setting expectations and highlights that many organizations do not invest in the necessary theoretical conversations before seeking partnerships. The guests stress the importance of realistic expectations, acknowledging that collaborations take time and trust-building. They recommend engaging a consultant with expertise in this field to guide organizations through the process and help set appropriate expectations.
The conversation concludes by addressing the profile of a consultant who can facilitate these partnerships. The guests note that while legal expertise may be required at certain stages, the facilitator’s primary role is to create a robust due diligence process that addresses power dynamics and other potential challenges. They mention the national network called Sustained Collaboration Network, which provides training and support for consultants in this field.