The world relies on mission-driven organizations to guide us toward a more equitable future, and nonprofits are evaluating how to work smarter, and more efficiently, not harder. With shared missions, and fewer resources to fulfill them, we’re seeing a wave of nonprofits in a variety of sectors now considering the benefits of merging.
The importance of establishing a strong brand for the new entity cannot be understated when it comes the success of a merger. Whether both organizations adopt the brand of one of the two entities, or develop their new brand together, the merger process will benefit from an authentic and aspirational brand strategy.
The following is a case study for Aspire, an adult literacy organization that believes learning turns obstacles into opportunities.
Culture is at the Core
Literacy Instruction for Texans (LIFT) and The Aberg Center for Literacy were two literacy organizations with a strong presence in Dallas, Texas. As the two nonprofits carried out their missions within the same circles, they began to recognize the benefits of joining forces.
Not only had both organizations provided years of demonstrated literacy services, they also shared a reputation for meeting every student where they are on their own learning journey. This unique approach coupled with their proven programming was creating a lasting, positive impact not just for individual students, but also for their families and the community at large.
Even before the decision was made to merge, leadership from both organizations knew that creating a sound, healthy culture would be crucial to the success of their future organization. Together, they would offer the most holistic, cradle to career literacy program in Dallas. But without internal cohesion, the program would not be complete.
Leadership knew right away that they wanted to create a culture of transparency, support, and growth, both for their staff and volunteers as well as the students they serve. To do this, they identified the key values that would help them live out this culture and made a point to galvanize them at every opportunity.
Mission Minded helped the two organizations blend their cultures through the development of active, tangible brand values that bring to life not just what they do every day, but why it matters. These values show up in ways big and small to fulfill a promise to internal and external stakeholders alike. Serving as a guidepost on a daily basis, a set of well-articulated and lived values became the glue holding both organizations together in the face of the many moving pieces of the merger.
Takeaway: Ensure leadership shares the same vision for internal culture and external reputation by clearly defining – early — the values by which you’ll operate. Brand is synonymous with your reputation, and a values-based culture is at the heart of your brand.
Transparency is Key
Once their vision for the organizational culture was established, LIFT and The Aberg Center set out to develop the identity of their new brand. This process required decisiveness and morality from the get-go. Bringing together two living, breathing organizations into one new entity that represents the best of both takes a lot of candid conversations and tough decision making.
Their merger was the result of a long-term, board-led process that allowed both organizations to carefully and respectfully explore how they could maximize their ability to combat low-literacy by combining forces, rather than working in parallel. Leadership found success in this process by inviting in as many voices as possible and keeping an open line of communication with all internal stakeholders. As key milestones were passed, and deadlines were met, the community was kept informed with confidence and genuine gusto.
These relationships were built over years of staff and volunteer collaboration, and also through the brand process. By making sure these stakeholders were considered and referenced at every stage, internal audiences felt heard, respected, and valued.
Takeaway: Be transparent at every turn. Many decisions will be made in the rebrand process and honesty and authenticity are key to advancing progress. Strong brands are made possible by strong leadership that encourages ongoing candor and collaboration.
Learning Never Stops
These organizations stepped boldly into their new identity thanks to an intentional balance of head and heart behind the scenes. But their biggest step forward came in knowing that the real work was just beginning.
Aspire had an initial plan for how to merge their services to offer the most comprehensive literacy program in Dallas. Over time they learned about different approaches and pivoted slightly. Input from volunteers and students pushed them to pivot again. As the merger process unfolded, the leadership at Aspire challenged themselves to stay adaptable and never stop learning, just as they do for their students.
As an organization with a reputation for going further than people expect to provide caring, compassionate, and empowering instruction, leadership consciously extended this same power and grace to themselves and their team. This sense of humility authentically stems from Aspire’s Brand Value of “Honor the Journey” and is a true demonstration of how to embark on a nonprofit merger with an open heart and a strong mind.
Takeaway: Be humble and keep hustling. Though programmatic choices will come and go, a sound brand strategy gives you firm legs to stand on and a filter through which to make decisions. This strategy and the values that help you live it will provide assurance and stability as you navigate daily operations.
Is your organization considering a merger but unsure of how to brand it? Mission Minded can help! Reach out to us and learn how we can support you.