Clarifying the “why” you are merging should be aligned with board and staff around the vision.
Without alignment, precious time and energy will be expended to establish alignment with each partner organization. In the case of the Connecticut Foodshare merger, it was clear from the onset that the goal was to increase impact in addressing food insecurity throughout the State of Connecticut.
It is easy to focus on policies and procedures when combining two organizations, but culture should be a first priority. Culture integration requires intentional thought, tools, and work so as to not fall into the “us” vs. “them” trap. One of the first things President and CEO Jason Jakubowski post-merger was assemble a team of eight employees from both organizations to craft a new mission, vision, and values for board review.
Communication is so important. Mergers are emotional and fraught with a lot of feelings, and you can’t gloss over the tough stuff. The more that can be shared early and often, the easier the process will be.
Documentation (for your financials, audit, etc.) is a big part of a merger and having legal counsel ready and available for each check point will prove invaluable for keeping the process on track. Connecticut Foodshare felt the one thing they might do over is to engage lawyers earlier.
There will be those who are comfortable with innovation and change, and those who are less able to move forward when the new organization emerges. It’s OK to “bless and release” board members and staff who might be holding the team back. Connecticut Foodshare saw some staff members not want to make the commute to the new location, and one or two board members resign. In many ways, this made the organization stronger.
The process is hard and often includes loss and grief. Allow yourself to experience the highs and the lows as they come. In the case of Connecticut Foodshare merger, working to align around a singular strategic mission was hard and what was key to success was that each nonprofit stayed dedicated to the process. It was at times frustrating, and egos had to be checked at the door.
Take the time to get to know each other. Be willing to explore options and see potential in the possibility. When lower levels of trust exist, engaging an outside consultant can be very valuable to help the organizations build the trust necessary to continue partnership discussions.