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Alliances, Mergers, and Partnerships

Assess Your Mission

Mergers and partnerships create the opportunity for:

  • Unifying multiple voices, boosting credibility and impacting policy outcomes.
  • Creating, combining and innovating on complimentary program and service offerings.
  • Sharing operating costs to free up more resources to focus on mission-based outcomes.

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:

  1. How could a merger/partnership help your chamber advance its core mission? Will the mission shift as part of a larger regional strategy?
  2. What key challenges and critical issues is your chamber facing that it cannot solve on its own? Could a merger or affiliation with other organization(s) help solve them?
  3. What are some of the opportunities (e.g., improving impact, increasing funding, etc.) your chamber could take advantage of in a partnership that it could not on its own?
  4. How could a partnership increase organizational capacity to operate more effectively and efficiently?
  5. What organizational partnerships are in place (or have previously been in place)? What was the experience like? What significant lessons were learned?


Create a Committee (And Consider Third Party Assessment)

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.

  1. What and who is driving the merger (funders, leaders, community, etc.)?
  2. Internal, i.e. staff, board, etc. - What are the pros of merging for each organization? 
    • Note: They may be different for each. At least one pro should be identified for each - there has to be an answer to the “why”.
  3. External, membership and the community - What are the pros of merging for each community? 
    • Note: They may be different for each. At least one pro should be identified for each - there has to be an answer to the “why”.
  4. How important and/or vital is the maintenance of current brand identities? If the current brand went away tomorrow and was replaced by a different brand, what would the practical impacts be?
  5. What assets and liabilities does each organization bring to the table?
  6. What are your shared goals for the region or other identity that binds your organizations together? Why were your organizations (individually) invited to the table?
  7. What unique income streams do the organizations have collectively? For instance, the collective membership dues of each organization is one stream. But, perhaps one organization has a magazine (publishing stream), one has a foundation (charitable stream), etc.
  8. What major industries do you collectively represent? How much cross-over is there?
  9. If the power to make major decisions were consolidated into one group of people, what level of diversity (region/organization/industry, etc.) would be required to achieve equitable outcomes?
  10. What are the major obstacles you anticipate to this process, collectively and within your individual silos (chamber, industry, city, etc.)? Possible obstacles:
    • Board buy-in
    • Existing resources in place
    • Operational integration
    • Stakeholder expectations
  11. What does “power” look like to each of you? 
    • The ability to move the economy?
    • The power to move votes?
    • What would a “powerful” regional entity mean in your area?
    • How would/could it change the economic landscape? 
  12. If your organization(s) merge/partner, what is the best possible outcome 10 years from now? 
    • What would success look like?
    • How will you measure impact?


Questions contributed in part by Joshua Bonner, President and CEO of Greater Coachella Valley Chamber of Commerce (CA)

Consider Third-Party Validation

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.

Communicate with Members, Board, and Stakeholders

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.

Managing Stakeholder Expectations

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.

Creating Governance

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.

Structuring the Board(s)

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.


Visit the Board of Directors resource guide for more resources on board management.

Integrate Team Culture, People, and More

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.