The Dirty Word in Shared Space: Mergers

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Sometimes I feel like there’s no better way to doom a planned nonprofit shared space than to talk about how it’s a good breeding ground for nonprofit mergers!  The only people interested in this aspect of shared space seem to be funders, and important as they may be, nonprofit leaders are often skeptical of their motivations.  Nonprofits prefer to focus on collaboration with autonomy – work together but without structural changes, because each nonprofit has its own distinct mission that needs to be fulfilled as a separate entity.

I’ve found this to be true, but I’ve also heard the adage, “never say never”.

As shared space providers, there is likely to come a time when some of your tenants/partners want to consider formal strategic restructuring (ie, merger) to better meet their missions.  What is your appropriate role in this process?  How might you support them?  How might you extend the capacity-building work you’ve already been doing to cultivate collaboration, and facilitate a higher level of integration?  What risks and conflicts are involved?

A nonprofit strategic restructuring (our term for a range of solutions, including mergers) involves changes to corporate control or structure and includes the creation or dissolution of one or more organizations. 

At Sharing Innovation, I’ll present some ideas for you to consider, including:

  • Triggers that indicate a conversation is warranted about merger
  • Criteria for when a merger is the right solution
  • How to assess readiness for merger among two staffs and boards
  • Troubleshooting and pitfalls to avoid

It’s never appropriate for nonprofit shared space staff, or any capacity-builder, to impose something as dramatic as a merger upon an organization. But I suspect that there are situations today in many shared spaces where tenants/partners are hungry for information on this work.  They may be contemplating some sort of strategic restructuring, but not know how to have that conversation or how to find resources to support them in analyzing their options and engaging in a process.

In 2013 at the Alliance Center, a merger between Colorado Conservation Voters and the Colorado Environmental Coalition created Conservation Colorado.  The LiteraCenter in Chicago has also seen restructuring among its tenants as they have found new ways to streamline their work in improving reading levels in public schools.

Shared space leaders play an important role in curating the mission of their space, supporting their nonprofit tenant/partners in achieving their own missions and creating a healthy and collaborative ecosystem.  Knowing how to support the full lifecycle of organizations, including mergers, is part of the portfolio of tools shared space leaders need to have to be effective and to best achieve the impact desired in the community.


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