Amplifying impact through nonprofit mergers | Opinion

By Rachel Myers
Courtesy to The Bellingham Business Journal

Mergers and acquisitions are becoming much more prevalent as businesses do everything they can to be effective and efficient in their work. This is a trend happening not only in the business sector, but in the nonprofit sector, as well.

A recent article by The Bridgespan Group, a nonprofit advisor for mission-driven organizations and philanthropists, framed it this way: The question facing an organization should not be, “Do we or do we not pursue mergers and acquisitions?” But rather, “How do we best fulfill our organization’s mission and strategy to be effective, and are mergers and acquisitions a better option than other alternatives?”

Our community is fortunate to have a recent example of how things can go very right in the process of an acquisition between two important community organizations. Womencare Shelter recently became a program of YWCA Bellingham.

While this new alliance was announced on Oct. 1, the story actually began a few years earlier as the Womencare Shelter’s board of directors began discussing options for strategic growth and evaluating the community needs, along with current services for women and children impacted by domestic violence. These discussions led to them to explore the possibility of a merger with another organization.

The other partner in this story, YWCA Bellingham, was doing an evaluation of its own as a part of its strategic planning process with new CEO Cheri Kilty.

After learning that the Womencare Shelter’s board had issued a request for proposals regarding a merger, the YWCA decided to submit a proposal, and ultimately they were chosen through this competitive process.

While there is no magic ingredient that will make every merger process successful, when asked what factors contributed most to their success, Kilty said: “I would point to mission compatibility, board and staff readiness, a solutions oriented approach, strong community support—including funding support from United Way, Whatcom Community Foundation and the Jerry Walton Foundation—and a well thought out roadmap as the key things that helped us to be successful.”

This process was so successful that the YWCA of Bellingham would be open to doing it again with another organization if the right opportunity was presented.

Kilty said she believes in the power of mergers and acquisitions because “resources are shrinking, and we need to share when we can. There are a lot of needs that are not being met in our community, and there are a lot of like-minded organizations that value empowerment for families.”

Mauri Ingram, CEO at Whatcom Community Foundation, said her organization helped support this project because, “this merger exemplifies leadership. The women they serve were their focal point at every step of the process. That is true community service.”

Both organizations agree that the most exciting result of this effort is the improved service they are both now able to provide for their clients.

Cathy Craver, chair of Womencare Shelter’s board, put it this way: “Together we can now provide better services for our clients, ranging from a 24-hour helpline to permanent housing. The new single management structure creates cost savings and facilitates development of new programs and expansions of current services.”

Craver added, “The creation of efficiencies enables us to advance our shared vision of creating a world free from domestic violence, empowering women and ending racism through dignified housing and support programs.”

Kilty added, “We hope our example encourages others in the nonprofit sector to create new partnerships, share resources and establish joint programs, as collaboration has been extremely successful in our efforts to provide better assistance to more people across the community.”

Womencare Shelter has helped more than 31,000 victims of domestic violence and their children find safety in our community. YWCA Bellingham has provided housing to nearly 10,000 women since moving into its historic building on Forest Street in 1915.

Rachel Myers is the development and programs manager at the Whatcom Community Foundation. This piece is part of a recurring series of columns from the Whatcom Council of Nonprofits regularly featured in The Bellingham Business Journal.

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