The phone rings, and a fellow nonprofit leader greets you on the other end of the line. After a few minutes of friendly gallows humor about the state of the world and the sector, she broaches the question: “Would your organization be interested in exploring a merger or some other type of partnership?”
Me? Me. Wait, ME?
Wow, I’m flattered...
What would this mean for us?
How would we even start this discussion?
These are pretty common reactions. We find that organizations are intrigued by mergers, and want to know what to ask whom and when. These days, conversations around mergers and other strategic partnerships are evolving. They’re increasingly centered on a robust consideration of community benefits, scaling, sustainability and much more.
So if you’ve been approached about merging or developing some other type of long-term collaboration, YES, there are specific questions to ask a potential strategic partner. Here at Envision Consulting, we’ve facilitated partnership explorations and negotiations for numerous nonprofits. So, as you evaluate whether you want to dive into a formal exploration process, consider these critical questions:
STEP 1: KNOW YOUR BASELINE
- What are our organization’s top priorities and biggest challenges?
- Which programs and assets are core to our mission? What does the phrase “deepen our impact” mean to us, i.e. serving more people, offering more programs, systemic change, geographic expansion, etc.? (Maybe, consult your strategic plan for this answer.)
- How could a partnership further our mission and deepen our impact?
STEP 2: UNDERSTAND THE OTHER ORGANIZATION'S MOTIVATION & VISION
- What are the other organization’s top priorities?
- Why are they interested in a strategic partnership, and what is appealing about our organization specifically?
- How do we see our programs being aligned or complementary?
- How will we be able to deepen our impact together? How might a partnership bring greater sustainability to both organizations?
STEP 3: ANSWER THE HARD QUESTIONS
- What could be a deal-breaker for us?
- How important is it to keep our organization’s name in some way, and what are our ideas for doing so?
- What will our board (and other key constituents i.e. funders, staff, clients, etc.) think of this?
If your answers to those initial questions pique your interest in learning more and possibly even spark some optimism and excitement, it’s time for executive directors and board chairs for both organizations to talk about the possibility of opening a formal exploration process. That process will involve both boards and other stakeholders and incorporate shared goal setting, due diligence, and facilitated deliberations and negotiations. It’s not a process that’s completed with one weekend retreat, but it has the potential for transformative opportunities for your organizations and the communities you serve.
And guess what? You don’t have to tackle it on your own! Envision is ready to be your facilitator, expert resource, project manager, and sounding board for a productive and positive exploration process.