Formalizing alliances offer an opportunity to leverage established relationships between organizations and accomplish community-wide planning that transcends what can be accomplished by one organization alone. Questions to consider:
There is no clean, one size fits all approach to a merger, alliance, or partnership, therefore it is important to identify the key elements of each unique situation and organization(s). According to Curtis Sneden, President of the Greater Topeka Partnership (KS), you need to have a sense of the purpose of the partnership - what is the outcome you want to achieve that you couldn't accomplish otherwise? Bob Quick, President and CEO of Commerce Lexington Inc. (KY), advises starting with the end in mind and working back from there. Creating a committee to address the following key foundational questions will help lay the groundwork.
Questions contributed in part by Joshua Bonner, President and CEO of Greater Coachella Valley Chamber of Commerce (CA)
At times, it can be important for the CEO to step back and invite a third-party in to help guide the discussion and engage stakeholders. Leveraging a third party for research, analysis, and benchmarking can also be an effective tool for creating a vision and driving the merger discussion forward. According to Boardsource, most successful mergers rely on outside experts, including attorneys, accountants, facilitators, and others.
Communicating early and often with members, board, stakeholders, and staff will serve to align interests, unify voices, and celebrate the merger. A well-developed communications plan and use of social media can assuage concerns and create the buy-in necessary for success.
A merger often creates stakeholder misconception that funding for the new organization can be cut in half. Your year one ask of stakeholders should include honoring current contribution levels to the organizations involved in the merger with the understanding that a new dues structure will be established in year two. Bob Quick, President and CEO of Commerce Lexington Inc. (KY) advises being very clear with stakeholders that a merger is about measurements and outcomes - alignment of resources and advancing impact - and not about saving money. His communications emphasize that their investment in the organization supports its success and acknowledges that ongoing justification is necessary.
Revisiting governance structures and documents is integral to a successful merger, affiliation, or partnership between organizations. Developing a plan for how the board and governance structure and operations of the involved organizations will be affected will reduce barriers to a successful merger or partnership.
The structure of the board will depend on the model adopted by the organizations. In a merger model, Jane Clark, President of Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce (MI), describes intentionally eliminating any resistance by combining boards and retaining all board members, which naturally grew smaller over time. Orlando Economic Partnership (FL), also retained a unified board with 170 members at the onset of the formation of the partnership The board has since reduced to about 75 members with an executive committee of 30, and will likely reduce even more in time.
As a regional umbrella organization, Capital Region Chamber (NY) affiliate organizations retained small boards whose members serve on the regional board. Each chair is an affiliate organization and each entity exists legally. INDY Chamber (IN) has a similar structure in which each organization maintains a separate brand name and boards within the affiliation model. President and CEO of INDY Chamber, Michael Huber, emphasizes the need for training on volunteer management every couple of years to effectively manage the board.
A merger or partnership between organizations requires a level of compatibility between the values and cultures of the organizations. A deliberate approach to create a team culture at the new organization will facilitate merger success.
Jeff Rea, President and CEO at South Bend Regional Chamber (IN), describes the need to be intentional about how staff were integrated within the new organization after merger. Opportunities for interaction between staff were created so that the merger didn't happen only on paper. This took place through shuffling desk rearrangement and structuring inter-office visits 2-3 days a week. Amanda Payne, President and CEO at Amplify Clearwater (FL), took a novel approach after the October 2019 merger. For a 90 day period, staff salaries remained the same but no one had job titles. This fostered team integration as well as a reorganization based on emerging strengths and skills. Curtis Sneden, President of Greater Topeka Partnership (KS) and Tim Giuliani, President and CEO of Orlando Economic Partnership (FL), both describe the need to manufacture cross functional teams in order to purposefully integrate a new team with a merged purpose.
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