The Nonprofit Merger Process: A Dating Game


Embarking on the road to a nonprofit merger may not strike nonprofit leaders as the most romantic endeavor, but it does mirror qualities of a very common practice: the modern dating game. In their workshop on mergers for nonprofits, ESC consultants Mike Stauff and Bob French use an analysis from CompassPoint Nonprofit Services’ The M Word: A Board Member’s Guide to Mergers that lays out how each step in the creation of a strategic alliance reflects human courtship, from exploring the candidate pool to engaging in one-on-one meetings to officiating a lawful union.

Step 1: Define and Identify Your Ideal Mr. or Mrs. Right
In the beginning, your nonprofit’s leadership—board, Executive Director, and other key stakeholders—should figure out the organization’s must-haves, like-to-haves, ok-not-to-haves and deal-breakers for prospective partner organizations. Individuals as well as the team as a whole should be thoughtful about their current nonprofit’s mission, management style, size, resources and other factors in assessing compatibility with another organization.

Step 2: Go Flirt
Once prospects have been identified, it’s time to initiate contact. The Executive Director, Board Chair, or both should make contact with prospective partners and begin informal conversations. Remember, flirting and first dates are all about first immediate impressions. Nonprofit leaders should be strategic in the information they share as well as the questions they ask and any requests for future contact made. This is a time to tread lightly and to keep options open.

Step 3: Explore Relationships and Date
This is the time to be focused and introspective. At this point, your nonprofit should have a committee in place that can explore the implications of specific mergers and begin due diligence. Your organization may even choose to pass an “intent to merge” resolution to the prospective partner as a signal of seriousness. This type of action promotes trust between both organizations and can act as a solidifying step in the right scenario. Remember though, as in dating, expressions of serious intent can become extremely dangerous tools when handed to more than one prospect.

Step 4: Pop the Question
You’ve explored your options. You’ve found the one. You’ve courted the organization for months or even years, and you know this strategic potential is real. Now it’s time to propose. The merger agreement, like a marriage proposal, is a non-legal agreement. There must be a document developed, approved by both boards, with the basis of a resolution of issues that lays the foundation for the overall structure and vision of a new entity. Expect this process to take anywhere between 4-12 months. Like planning for a wedding, there are many details to hash out before this partnership can be made official.

Step 5: Sign the “Marriage License”
Woohoo! You’ve made it through hammering out the details of what your partnership will look like. It’s time for legal enactment. Upon approval of the Merger Agreement, both boards must enlist their own legal counsel to manage the legal aspects of the merger.

Step 6: Celebrate Your Nonprofit’s Official Union
The launch of the merged nonprofit is an exciting time to showcase the new resulting organization. It’s also an excellent fundraising opportunity—be sure that both nonprofit’s supporters are fully aware of this special event, and that any parties that may be interested in the joining of two previously separate missions know this is a great time to give.

Step 7: Go Forth in Unity
The newlywed phase can be varied in time and intensity. With this period comes various levels of integration, for example your new organization may need to work out systems integration, staff reorganization, cross-training issues, cultural habits, team building and more. The merger process itself may call for management consulting assistance, but this time in particular can be especially smoothed through the employment of nonprofit consultants and capacity building services.

To learn how ESC consulting services can impact your eastern Massachusetts or Rhode Island nonprofit, please contact Director of Consulting Ulea Lago at or call 617-357-5550.


10 Steps of a Nonprofit Board Recruitment Plan


Like many governance responsibilities within a nonprofit organization, board recruitment is best dealt with through process. ESC consultants Terry Hamacher and Jude Kidd offer ten steps to a nonprofit board recruitment plan in their “Board Development” workshop. See how your organization’s process stacks up, and let us know if you think this is the right way to recruit the right people.

1.) Determine Needs and Priorities
What is your organization lacking that a new board member could provide? What new initiatives could be started with additional directors? Once your existing members have determined your nonprofit’s needs, work together to rank the importance of these desired outcomes you’ve established.

2.) Set Goals
Based on your organization’s prioritized needs, set goals to help facilitate the board recruitment process. Make clear how many candidates you hope to speak with, the date by which you’d like new board members fully on board, and other attainable standards for your team to strive for.

3.) Review By-Laws
Before moving forward, your existing nonprofit board must review the organization’s by-laws. This is an excellent time for all currently involved individuals to check in on the basics of your organization’s governance, and to adjust outdated information. All existing members should be fresh on organizational standards before welcoming someone new to the Board.

4.) Assign Overall Responsibility
Typically, board recruitment calls for a special committee to be established. Unless you are a new or very small organization, forming a group of responsible board members to lead this process is highly recommended—a collaborative effort allows multiple viewpoints and better opportunity for success than the efforts of one or two board members alone.

5.) Develop Talking Points
What are the key items about your nonprofit someone from the outside needs to know? Additionally, what would a potential new board member need to know about the way your organization is governed before committing to membership themselves? Talking points that can answer these questions are vital to successful board recruitment.

6.) Identify Sources
The last preparation point is to identify sources for board member recruitment. Your organization may choose simply to spread your cause by word of mouth, generating leads through friends, coworkers and volunteers ; or, you may choose to actively solicit board members at local businesses, community centers, and other areas conducive to generating social activity and community connection

7.) Generate List of Potential Candidates and Prioritize
Once your organization has established recruitment sources, existing members must come together to compile a list of targeted individuals. Discuss among the group who are the strongest candidates to help your organization fulfill its mission (and the goals you set at the start of the recruitment process). Prioritize carefully to ensure a mutually beneficial fit.

8.) Establish a Follow-Up Procedure
Determine how to reach out to candidates you are interested in as new board members, as well as how to let anyone else you’ve talked to know you won’t be moving forward with their recruitment process. While recruitment for a nonprofit board position may not have weight of applying for a paid job or college admission, learning you aren’t a good fit can be difficult (even if the feeling is mutual). Keep things light with candidates you’re passing on, and let the fitting recruits know they’re wanted with equally easy enthusiasm.

9.) Assign Responsibility for Making the Calls
Who will reach out? These people, or this person, must be defined. If the new board member was recommended by an existing board member friend, it may be determined that the personally connected individual should make the call. If the process has been especially formal, consider having the Board Chair or another high-ranking member reach out to new recruits.

10.) Make the Calls
The final step. The follow-up procedure should give the caller a firm template to work with, but this caller should be prepared to work on their feet—he or she may encounter a surprise rejection or have to field questions before an acceptance is stated. While this should be the simplest of all steps, it is best to be prepared for this (or any) step of the process to take an unexpected turn.

ESC of New England offers management consulting and capacity building services to nonprofits in eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Email Director of Consulting Ulea Lago at or call 617-357-5550 to learn how your organization may benefit from an ESC consulting engagement—we offer a complimentary 2-hour assessment visit to all interested area nonprofits.

Use Storytelling to Report Nonprofit Outcomes

Nonprofit leaders may tend to associate storytelling with marketing efforts, but creating a narrative for your organization is equally helpful in outcomes measurement for nonprofits. ESC Consultant Barry Seltser breaks down what an organization’s story should include, and how nonprofit leaders can collect the necessary information to build an effective narrative for reporting outcomes.

Whether you are building an annual report targeted to constituents or presenting the outcomes of a particular project to your nonprofit’s board, all narratives must answer the following questions:

  • What is the situation?
  • What did we do?
  • Why did we do this?
  • What happened as a result of what we did?
  • Why does it matter?

The key goal in weaving a narrative for reporting outcomes is to attribute any change or improvement to what you did. The power of storytelling itself will make a greater impact and highlight the true accomplishments of any effort fully, linking your organization’s actions to the outcomes produced.

If your nonprofit is not already practicing storytelling as a part of your outcomes measurement process, you may be at a loss as to where content for such narratives can be found. How do you unlock these stories from wherever they are hiding? According to Barry, nonprofits have a breadth of sources to tap into.

In creating a narrative to report outcomes, nonprofit leaders should ask themselves: Who are my best informants? Who knows about my organization’s ability to help achieve optimal outcomes? In addition, whoever is assigned to interviewing people should consider where and when it is appropriate to approach these “storytellers”. These individuals tasked with asking the questions should consider where targeted interviewees would be most comfortable sharing their experiences, who they would be most comfortable talking to, and how they are most likely to give you the information you need (i.e. over the phone, in person, by email, etc.). While not all story-gathering opportunities can be anticipated, nonprofits should routinely ask for storytelling content during standard procedures such as exit interviews, regular reporting cycles and training sessions.

Has your nonprofit successfully used an organizational narrative to report outcomes? Please comment with success stories, further questions and discussion on this tactic.

ESC of New England offers management consulting and capacity building services in a variety of areas including Outcomes Measurement, Marketing, Strategic Planning and more. Please contact Ulea Lago, Director of Consulting, at for more information. We offer a complimentary 2-hour assessment visit to all interested nonprofits in eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island.