Will Your Merger Succeed? Consider This Factor

The year of COVID-19 has been a year of mergers. Some organizations have become stronger during this challenging year and sought to expand their impact by joining forces with a similar organization. Other organizations, facing dwindling revenues, have paired with mission-aligned nonprofits to increase efficiency.

Mission Minded has served multiple mergers in its 20+ years. Some have thrived. Some have dissolved. And others are yet to be determined. One thing is clear, however; one factor stands above the rest as a key indicator of whether the merger will succeed or fail.

Likely, the first indicator we would all expect to look to is mission. Do the organizations seek to accomplish the same things in the world? Surely a shared mission will bring them together.

But, unfortunately, what you do is not who you are. The statement that guides your organization’s decision-making isn’t enough to consolidate multiple team members under the same banner.

One merger we witnessed was between two organizations with very similar missions. The two groups served similar audiences in the same geographic area. Some of their work overlapped with each other. From the perspective of a funder the organizations might have seemed at best complimentary and at worst redundant.

The two organizations embarked on a process to merge together. Plans were created, strategies formulated, and names considered.

But ultimately one of the organizations’ boards voted not to merge with the other. Why: because their organizational cultures weren’t in sync with one another. Despite sharing a common mission for the work they wanted to accomplish in their community, the culture, style and values of the two organizations were different enough that each needed to exist independently.

It’s shared values that bring two teams together. As we’ve witnessed first-hand, the best predictor of a successful merger is whether the organizations share a set of values—not just in what they’ve put on paper, but what they commit to and live out every day.

Take the merger between these two literacy organizations in Dallas, Texas. For both Literacy Instruction for Texas and the Aberg Center for Literacy, both organizations understood that the promise of learning is more than literacy, it is a gateway to a better life. The values that guide the two organizations—Honor the Journey, Lift Each Other Up, Earn Trust, and Stay Grounded—are shared by both organizations.

As a result, the new organization that has emerged from the merger, Aspire, brings all of its stakeholders together under a shared belief in turning obstacles into opportunities and walking alongside its students as they make the brave decision to change their lives.

The dissolution of an attempted merger isn’t necessarily a failure, though. There are enough challenges in our community and the world at large that we need a diversity of approaches, styles, and personalities to address them. Take Greenpeace and The Nature Conservancy for example. The two organizations ostensibly have similar missions to preserve and protect our precious natural resources. But the values, personalities, and styles are vastly different from one another, and as a result they attract different audiences to their work.

This is a good thing. No one organization has a monopoly on brilliance, and a merger that doesn’t come to fruition is an indicator that there’s a need for both entities to exist—even when they might overlap in the work that they do.

Ultimately, this reinforces the essential need for brand—not just to address questions of name and logo, but to unite the organization behind a shared belief, values, and culture. What brings us together as individuals and organizations are the essential elements of a brand: the values that guide our organizations, create our cultures, and carry us forward into each successive day.