I spent a couple hours speaking to representatives from United and Continental Airlines regarding a variety of travel issues triggered by their pending merger. I was fortunate that all of the representatives I interacted with were noticeably sincere and helpful. What was particularly illuminating is that most of my conversation included the language ‘us’ and ‘them’. It makes me wonder, how do you bring two large enterprises together in a sector as competitive as the airlines. The next round of the operations merger is scheduled for March 2012. How does the term ‘them’ morph into ‘us’ and a sense being one?
The same scenario is being played out in the social sector as organizations partner, merge, or hand over their programs to another enterprise. Combining staff, board, volunteers, and donors is not without systemic and cultural shifts. How prepared is your cause to partner, merge, or even discuss the potential?
Two helpful resources include:
Nonprofit Mergers and Alliances
Yesterday’s financial market crash and recovery makes for dramatic headlines. The system appeared to free fall for a few minutes and technology took control. Tied into the market volatility is the impact of Greece’s debt. Charlie Rose’s interview of Martin Wolf of the Financial Times brought to light observations about forming an ideal partnership. He suggested that the original group of countries that founded the European Union (EU) made sense. The core countries were connected to each other by similar cultures, geography, manufacturing, and markets. When the EU expanded and additional countries were introduced to the union, there was a significant shift in the selection criteria. Mr. Wolf’s point is that bringing Greece into the EU did not make sense as the Greeks shared little cultural, manufacturing, or market symbiosis with the original members. Now that the Greek economy needs rescuing, Germany is challenged to find a compelling reason save Greece during its economic emergency. The core members’ primary motivation is to save the EU simply to manage their own fate.
This real-time example is a reminder to set clear criteria. Partner with organizations that are going to serve the team’s interest in both positive and challenging environment. The current uproar around the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s marketing venture with Kentucky Fried Chicken reminds us that partnerships are not always simple. Consider asking if the partnering organization ‘contribute more’ or ‘take more’ from a collaboration? Are there conditions where the partnership is ideal? How do you honor the criteria by which a partnership was entered? How will you measure the effectiveness of the union?