Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Charitable Mergers: A recipe for change, challenge and opportunity

Here’s a recipe we should all be thinking about… Take thousands of charities, dozens of great causes, and bring to a boil through limited financial resources and increasing demand. Blend in a desire to leverage for-profit best practices around mergers and you have the potential for a tasty dish to serve many new stakeholders. But how do you ensure that the dish ever even gets made, and if so how do you ensure it doesn’t boil over to make a huge mess?

Corporate mergers often fail. And charities that have been poorly merged have failed too. Moreover, the same passion that is at the core of every successful charity can actively resist the kind of change required for a merger. Worse yet, very real issues of maintaining donors and ensuring long-time supporters don’t leave can scare off even veteran Boards and charitable leaders.

Here are three top ways to help make this process less intimidating and more likely to succeed.

First, seek what is common in the charities in question as opposed to strictly what is different. Craig Dearden-Phillips’ article http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/feb/17/charity-merger-journey
sheds light on this perspective.

Second, seek engagement from corporate funders in particular early in the process. With the growing trend towards Collective Impact http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/collective_impact/ corporate funders are beginning to "reward" organizations that are considering ways to "do more" with combined resources.

Finally, consider all your stakeholders and communicate a vision that underscores benefits (even if it may only be survival) for all concerned. Collaboration, transparency and openness have helped other organizations achieve success http://www.insidetoronto.com/print/43149 and are the key ingredients of successful corporate mergers as well.

Not undertaken lightly or without risk, a charitable merger – even of one function or via shared space – might be worth your consideration on the menu at least as “food for thought”.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Of Stars and Charities

Every year well meaning people start up new charities, some of them stars who have the ability to donate large sums or use their fame to encourage others to do so. For example (albeit not a Canadian one), you may have heard about Madonna’s costly exploits in Malawi where £2.4 million has been spent, but her school project has not even broken ground (www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/25/madonna-malawi-charity-squandered-millions). Perhaps this is an example of what can happen when a well-intentioned star takes up a cause or starts an organization without any real understanding of charitable processes or what’s required to deliver programs.

However I believe that even stars who create well-run, impactful and successful charities may be inadvertently undermining their own potential results. Unless there is truly no other organization addressing the need that the star’s new charity seeks to address, however different the new group may be it is (by definition) adding a new set of costs and infrastructure to address their cause.

One example is Guy Lalibert√©’s One Drop (http://www.onedrop.org/). Having visited their website and read their Annual Report it seems to be a wonderful organization, supporting much-needed work supplying fresh water and related project work in many parts of the world. In 2009, One Drop raised over $10 million. And of note, the "Founder’s Contribution" was over $7 million – generous and wonderful indeed! However, notwithstanding the One Drop partnership with Oxfam, One Drop also spent almost $2 million on Fundraising Costs and Administration. Don’t get me wrong, One Drop seems to be a lean and apparently efficient organization, so I’m not suggesting almost $2 million is too much to spend on the operational side.

But it is $1,900,000 that could have gone towards another, already existing organization that pursues the same mission, and not added the incremental costs of this new organizational infrastructure. There are already lots of charities that seek to improve water availability around the world Р3.7 million hits to a Google search under "charity clean water". Imagine the influence (and impact) stars like Guy Laliberté could have if they focused this kind of support and passion on an existing, effective and efficient, organization, and simply generated the full $10 million to support one of them...

In the end, perhaps our stars should first consider if there isn’t a way to achieve their vision through partnership or being a spokesperson rather than through creating something entirely new.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Many more social ventures for many more Charities?

Saturday's Globe and Mail newspaper in Toronto had an article discussing social enterprises (a.k.a. social ventures).  Examples ranged from a bakery that employs people "at the edges of society" to a group helping aboriginal carpenters get experience towards full-time work.  You can read the article at the Globe and Mail on Social Enterprises.

Let me state for the record that the concept of social enterprises is one that I support, and as a business-person I can certainly appreciate the benefits that can accrue to employees and the organization from a well run operation. What struck me about the article however was what was not covered in detail.

First, the article certainly mentions declining donations and government funding.  And it's clear this is already an impetus for charities to seek out new revenue streams.  But I'd hate for charities to see social enterprises (or any other "business model" that raises funds) as a saviour and charge into the fray unprepared.  While the article touches on "bumps along the way", business can (and sadly do) fail every day, and already overstretched charities are poorly equipped to try something as challenging as a start-up business. At least not without lots of expert advice or conversely very modest expectations...

But the article also mentions the 150+ social ventures that are in Toronto today, with "half of them [having been created] in the last 5 years".  So in addition to the risk mentioned above, we are already seeing a trend towards creating more social enterprises. I offer that with 80,000+ charities (and over 150,000 not-for-profits) in Canada we need to be seeking synergies, efficiencies, and ways to deliver on charitable "Mission" that don't create yet more new entities.  Maybe there's room in Toronto for thousands more new social enterprises, but what I'd really like to see is far fewer such a projects, and each one run by multiple charities in a collaborative fashion.

The overlap in charitable Missions and still growing numbers of charities combined with declining revenues is creating a perfect storm.  Charities that come together, spread the risk and cost among them, and cooperatively seek the support needed to launch a successful business, would be a model worth replicating across the country.  For my money that would be truly newsworthy!

Friday, April 1, 2011

A bit of a Fool but No Joke

An early morning meeting this week reminded me that as specialists in our respective fields we can forget or even be unaware of how big and/or complex other sectors may be.  But I am guilty (and maybe you are too) of assuming that I know lots about the sectors I know best.  And we all know the saying about people who assume things...

So I'm always pleased (but not entirely surprised!) to find great new resources and tools that shed light on the charitable world.  In particular the blog below has the added benefit of a variety of links to other resources and bloggers.  If you'd like to learn more about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and sustainability I suggest you take a look.


So it may be April 1st, but there's no joke here!