Survive your nonprofit mergerNonprofit experts Gary G. Godsey, executive director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, and Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk, MissionBox co-founder and CEO, have teamed up to create MissionBox DoubleTake — a column that offers opinions about the peskier aspects of working in the nonprofit sector. The opinions offered here are based on the authors' personal nonprofit experience and may not reflect the opinions of MissionBox, Inc. These opinions should not be considered legal advice or used as a substitute for professional legal consultation. MissionBox readers are invited to submit alternative responses, which may be published here as well.
How can I ensure that I am the CEO of choice after a nonprofit merger?
There are two organizations in my town that provide similar support and education services for pregnant teens, and my nonprofit is one of the two. It makes sense to combine operational functions such as bookkeeping, payroll, HR, technology, while also saving money on rent and utilities. We’ve looked over the financials and we’d save a significant amount on overhead costs. It seems that our organizational cultures are similar too, which I think is an important consideration.
The best outcome from the merger would be that we could serve more teens. Currently both of our organizations have waiting lists for services. The problem we've run up against is that not only would some employee roles become redundant, but that one of the two CEOs (I am one of them) would have to leave.
Both of us CEO candidates hold excellent credentials and have over 10 years of experience. We are equally ranked as excellent bosses by our respective staff members and we share a passion about the cause of assisting teen moms in being better parents.
I realize the combined board will make the final decision, but is there anything I can do to move ahead as the top candidate?
Gary says ...
This is clearly a matter of positioning yourself for what you want. If both CEOs are strong, as you suggest, then it becomes a matter of defining the characteristics and traits you can bring to the table that would most benefit the newly merged organization. Do an assessment of the situation to find out what skills you have that match up best with the possible scenarios ahead.
I would also suggest leaning on my people skills. Inevitably, there will be a lot of emotions that will need to be managed, for both staff and volunteers. I suggest that these skills may be the big differentiator. Playing up communication skills may give you an edge in a competitive situation like you describe.
Be clear in defining your answer, when asked, “Why are you the better candidate.” You should be able to answer clearly in just one or two sentences. Show you're strong and committed.
Kathryn says ...
I’ve been an executive during several mergers — both nonprofit and for profit. It’s a balancing act and requires many skills and traits that may not always overlap with those of an ongoing CEO.
I think your best bet is to do your homework on what unique qualities or experience you have that makes you a good fit to lead during a merger. Make sure the board knows this, either through the application and interview process (if there is one), or by letter before the decision is made.
Be aware that, as in most CEO roles, a combination of strategic and tactical, short and long-term planning and execution are essential. Along with the board, you must re-plan and hold a well communicated vision of what the future will look like for your staff, your consumers, your board, your donors and your organization’s mission. Then, you will need to work methodically to keep the combined organizations motivated to make this vision a reality. This doesn’t happen overnight, so you need to be focused, tenacious, communicative, supportive and willing to make difficult decisions.
Also, be careful what you wish for. Leading two merged organization takes enormous energy and long hours. You are not always going to be popular with your current or future employees. Change is always a challenge and guiding that change will be your responsibility.