As in so many previous years, the Morris County Chamber addressed one of the most important issues facing nonprofit across the country today.

On May 3, 2019, Carlos Rodriguez, CEO of the Food Bank of New Jersey, set the stage with opening remarks that went right to the heart of the problem. He offered two very profound observations: nonprofits cannot accomplish their mission if they try to go it alone; and secondly, because of the importance of strategic alliances, they need to stop competing and instead find ways to successfully work together. When vying for volunteers, grants and revenue, they naturally position themselves working against each other. If they put aside this competitive attitude, this desire to work in separate silos, they would quickly realize that they will be able to effect serious change by adopting a cooperative approach with other key stakeholders.   

As Carlos concluded his remarks, emphasizing the importance of seeing the big picture and identifying other influencers who also embrace their vision, three panelists applied his observations to their unique circumstances.

Patrice Picard, CEO of Cornerstone Family Programs and Neighborhood House, spoke about the challenges and opportunities that faced the merger of these two Morristown icons. Robert Davison, Executive Director of the Mental Health Association of Morris and Essex, shared insights into a failed merger as well as a successful one. Helen LeFrois, Jersey Battered Women’s Service (JBWS) put forth a case study of a collaborative, one-stop-shop effort spearheaded by JBWS that includes  a range of entities to ensure a smooth, less stressful/painful process for victims of domestic abuse.   

All agreed that there are several factors to consider when attempting to merge two organizations. The first is that they both have similar goals and similar missions. This is just the first and most basic consideration. Next they need to be transparent about their individual personalities as well as the general culture of the entire nonprofit organization.  

Emotional challenges, culture and personalities (egos) can be deal killers.  Have a cool head; identify the advantages; work with professionals who can conduct due diligence and look at the facts in a rational way.

Admit that mergers, alliances and collaborative arrangements are to be celebrated; these bring good news, many benefits and should not be seen as a failure!