Thursday, November 29, 2012

5 Reasons Why Charity Mergers Work

Based on the for-profit track record, charities should stay away from mergers. Given that many academic studies find that a large proportion of for-profit mergers actually decrease profits and efficiency why would charitable organizations risk this path?

As discussed previously merging charities has risks, but I'm increasingly of the opinion that the benefits outweigh the challenges. Here are 5 key reasons why merging can and does make sense.

  1. Like-minded organizations that come together to focus on a single issue or cause can accomplish far more than each working alone. What's been called "collective impact" is all the buzz right now in the charitable world simply because it works: just ask Advancing Philanthropy!
  2. My contention is that there are simply too many charities - think about the number of different organizations that have overlapping Missions or seek to duplicate the work already being done by another group.  With 161,000 charities and non-profits in Canada alone surely there's room for fewer to do better work with reduced confusion and re-work.
  3. In the spirit of reduced confusion, clearly mergers would allow precious donor dollars to be more accurately and effectively applied.  And the obverse is that fewer charities would also allow donor dollars to support more impact and less overhead: two charities that merge into one only need one photocopier, one reception area, and one kitchen microwave, not two of each.  Also, with fewer competing messages for donations it would be easier (and more cost effective) for vital charitable messages to break through and be heard.
  4. The charitable world is all about passion, but like money there are only so many volunteers and so many donated hours to go around.  A merged organization would (ideally) draw on the strengths that existed in the originals, ensuring that 1+1=3.
  5. The best reason to pursue mergers, collaboration and collective impact in the charitable world is that it's very hard to do.  Albeit a simplification, in the for profit world the firm with enough money can buy out the one that's smaller.  In the charitable world that doesn't work (donor backlash, government regulations, volunteer boards, etc.), and organizations that seek to "merge" need to find common ground and shared passion.  The same volunteers and varied stakeholders that can make decision-making within charities so challenging present natural barriers to ill-considered collaborations.  So the fact that it takes so much work and trust to merge mean that it is likely the outcomes will be better in the long run.  Remember, money can't buy you love...
I'm personally aware of several great examples where charity mergers, collaboration and collective impact are already working well, and expect we'll see more examples in this tough economy. It appears that 1+1 does indeed equal 3.

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