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What It Means When Nonprofits Merge

There are many ways we compromise as nonprofit leaders. Our time, our budgets, our resources…all for the great...

There are many ways we compromise as nonprofit leaders. Our time, our budgets, our resources…all for the greater good of our organizations and the communities we serve. But when is compromise necessary? And, more importantly, when is it the right thing to do?

It was recently announced that the Lancaster Museum of Art and the Demuth Museum, both located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, will consolidate as one entity while maintaining their separate locations. The reason for the merger is to maximize resources, specifically staff and governance. (For a deeper discussion of the two museums, their histories, and their artistic missions, see Eileen Cunniffe’s newswire here.)

Sometimes the term “merger” has the connotation of failure. Contrary to that, many merger cases symbolize strength and vitality, especially when encouraged and endorsed by invested parties, such as elected officials and foundations. The National Council of Nonprofits refers to these nonprofit mergers as “collaborations,” “strategic alliances,” or even “partnerships” to defer any negative significance a merger could represent. In Lancaster, the museum merger has been approved both by a local foundation and the city’s mayor, furthering the positive impact this action will have on the community as a whole. So in this case, the merger is not due solely to a lack of resources, but to an outpouring of community attention and affirmation.

A strategic alliance allows for growth and sustainability through cost-effective and low-impact measures. The Lancaster-Demuth merger demonstrates the need for shared resources and capacity-building efforts to enhance the mission and continuation of these two major community assets. But who really benefits from this consolidation—the organizations, the community, or both? There are many reasons to merge (such as financial struggles, governing resources, etc.) but the community that is served is essential to any nonprofit’s success. The community is why a nonprofit exists.

In a 2012 article from the Nonprofit Quarterly entitled “Creating Fertile Soil for the Merger Option,” Judith Alnes identifies the realities of major motivations of mergers. Ninety-three percent of organizations merge to increase service delivery and to ensure the long-term financial stability of at least one of the merging groups, while 75 percent do it to save programs and services that might otherwise be lost without the merger. These statistics demonstrate that the community component has a heavy influence on whether or not an organization should merge with another.

Though mergers are often set in place to the community’s benefit, there are some instances when obstacles arise—not all mergers conclude with a happy ending. If mergers are intended to give communities and audiences a more well-rounded and stable experience, then organizations planning to merge should exhaustively examine all data that may affect the merger. One example would be to investigate audience overlap statistics, which can be identified as a cost-saving mechanism, as was the case with the Sacramento Philharmonic and Sacramento Opera merger in 2010. The merger was meant to address gaps in spending, and the small overlap provided partial justification for the organizations to merge to cover certain costs. The reality demonstrated that this overlap was not enough to sufficiently increase revenues; a merger was not the answer.

There are many lessons to be learned from nonprofit mergers, and a variety of both success and failure cases. Clearly, the good of the community should be the result of any merger, as it is at the crux of any nonprofit organization. Why do we continue to strive and thrive as nonprofits? To give back and serve our communities. Alone, we are a voice; as a collective, we are a force. Whether that force acts for our community of nonprofits or for our supporters and patrons depends upon the ambitions and goals of the unified, merged organizations and their anticipated plans for the future.—Jennifer Swan

What It Means When Nonprofits Merge, September 26, 2014, Nonprofit Quarterly, by Jennifer Swan

Are You Sending Mixed Messages to Your Members?

Imagine this scenario: A supporter clicks the “donate” link in one of your emails and gives to your organ...

Imagine this scenario: A supporter clicks the “donate” link in one of your emails and gives to your organization through the website. Afterward, the supporter tweets her support and gets an enthusiastic re-tweet from your organization’s Twitter handle. She also receives an automated gift acknowledgement email from your donation system, as well as a mailed “Thank You” letter from your development department the following month.  Through this seemingly simple interaction, the donor has touched your communications, IT, and development departments.  

Even though members engage with your organization through multiple channels and interact with different departments, they desire the same level of communication and customer service across the board. If one of the three separate “thank yous” to your donor addresses her by the wrong first name (It’s Katherine not Katie, thank you very much), the donor will not assign blame to the communications coordinator who proofread the text; the whole organization may take a hit in her eyes for this lack of attention to her personal details.

Have you heard these comments before?

“I know I already changed my address in your system!”

“No, I haven’t had that job title for three years.”

“Our company categorization is wrong on your website.”

“Why are you sending me information on conference X—it’s nowhere close to my field?”

While you may view your organization as a collection of distinct, perhaps even siloed, departments, your member sees you as one entity and expects consistency and efficiency. For this reason, the member or supporter experience must be consistent organization-wide.

Understanding how your organization’s member data is collected and stored is the first step to achieving this aim.

For example, if someone updates their mailing address with your membership department and the membership team updates their record in the AMS, does this information ever make its way to the lists run by your marketing team? What about any of the demographic data you collect when people register for your events?

In a perfect world, departments throughout your organization would join forces in kumbaya fashion to provide a consistent member experience that recognizes the member’s entire identity, not just discrete interactions with one department. In reality, this task is often fraught with technical difficulties—how often have you requested a seemingly simple transfer of business intelligence only to be told, “But the systems don’t talk to each other.”  

If there is no one-click solution to updating the organization’s marketing lists or sharing demographic information collected elsewhere by the organization, disparate departments should work to find “out of the box” ways to pass this enhanced member intelligence onto other teams. While this may be a laborious process that requires some skill in data manipulation, it’s worth the effort to ensure that you make a consistently good impression with the organization’s members and supporters.

Using this data to tailor member engagement leads to a better member experience.

No matter which team engages with a member, a personalized interaction wins every time. Personalization is achieved when an organization utilizes the available information to make service efficient and to make members feel valued.

Once an organization commits to tearing down its informational siloes, all sorts of member insights emerge. By examining information and patterns of behavior on an organization-wide scale, you will get a fuller picture of your members by connecting the data dots you likely already have on hand. These insights can feed into the delivery of a more customized member experience.

Say that a supporter subscribes to your advocacy-focused digital publication and is a member of several committees focused on areas of legislation that are overseen by different departments in your organization.  Combining all of this engagement data yields a clear picture of a member who is very interested in advocacy. Instead of sending him general emails about every organizational webinar and event, you can tailor your offerings and messages to align with his values. Would he appreciate an invitation to your D.C. fly-in day? Absolutely. Does he want to know Five Tips For Landing a Job in Field X? Eh, maybe not.

This tailored messaging and engagement sends positive signals to members and supporters. Not only are you addressing your member by the correct first name and title, you are tailoring the content your member receives to his past behaviors and preferences. Instead of appearing like an unfeeling robot monolith, your organization is sending signals that say, “We remember you,” “You matter.”

Breaking down data siloes results in a staff that is more in touch with member profiles and member needs. By making member data-sharing an organization-wide priority, you will retain satisfied members and supporters. Additionally, as this approach pushes organizational goals to the forefront, you might just discover opportunities for growth and revenue that you never even knew existed!

Are You Sending Mixed Messages to Your Members? September 16, 2014, NTEN, by Marissa Maybee

Putting Data to Use for a Successful Nonprofit Event

One of the simultaneously most rewarding and most difficult aspects of nonprofit work is the reliance on community me...

One of the simultaneously most rewarding and most difficult aspects of nonprofit work is the reliance on community members to support an organization’s cause. It can be challenging to communicate the importance of a nonprofit’s work in a way that motivates action in others; however, when an organization does successfully reach those people, whether they be volunteers or simply curious parties, the results can be tremendous in terms of both generosity and support. For your group to see this kind of impact, you need to place an emphasis on helping outside individuals establish a personalized relationship with the cause at hand. The best time to create this one-one-one dynamic and instill a stronger connection with the issues at hand is your organization’s events. Fundraisers present valuable opportunities to generate a stronger understanding of and commitment to the given cause within the attendees. This may sound like a daunting task, but it all comes down to maximizing the available data and integrating it with existing customer relationship management (CRM) systems like Blackbaud to enhance the event experience for each individual.

The many uses of data for enhancing an event can be broken down into three categories: before, during, and after.

Planning the event

The planning and promotion of an event is your first opportunity to begin gathering valuable information about your invited guests. It’s your first point of contact with the attendees and, as we all know, a lot can be gained from a first impression.

As you collect the registration data, there are several beneficial methods of segmentation that can be implemented based on the information you receive. For example, has the attendee come to this event in the past? Better yet, has he been coming for the past several years and knows more about the event that the presenters? If this is the case, use that information to put a personalized touch on his event materials. He doesn’t need the background about the event itself, but might appreciate something more along the lines of a “Welcome back!”

Gaining this kind of valuable information ahead of time is simply a matter of asking the right questions. Initial submission and interest forms offer the opportunity to ask far more than simply names and titles. Use the chance to learn about an attendee’s background and goals, and you’ll be able to make strong connections with the right people before the event has even started.

At the show

When it comes to asking the right questions, it’s not all about learning how you can improve the pre-event experience; you can also use that data to personalize the event itself.

While larger components such as keynote speakers or auction items are often set in stone before registration data comes in, there are smaller finishing touches that can be put in place with less advance notice. Are some of your attendees vegan? They might appreciate some appetizers that reflect their dietary needs. Does someone go by her middle name? Show you paid attention by putting that on her nametag. Is there a group of people who spend their weekends hiking? Work your recent experience on the Appalachian Trail into the conversation when you introduce yourself.

The devil is in the details, and people will respond to that extra effort, or lack thereof. For nonprofits that run on the generosity of others, both in terms of time and money, personal connections can make all the difference. Data will open the doors to these more impactful gestures, which can lead to memorable nights for your attendees across the board.

The wrap-up

Your chance to put data to use isn’t over when the last guests leave. In the same way the pre-event registration questions create opportunities for customization, a well-crafted post-event questionnaire can be a valuable commodity. Your attendees appreciate personalized efforts before and during the show because it shows you’ve taken the time to appreciate their contributions; a survey following the event that asks for honest feedback — and then acts on it — demonstrates the same genuine interest and gratitude.

Which speaker was most well-received? What auction item motivated attendees to contribute their highest bids? Once your event data is fully integrated with your existing system, you can check which attendees are repeat donors, and whose average donations increased following the event. This information can help you gain a much clearer understanding of what worked and what didn’t, allowing you to reduce costs on unnecessary initiatives and ultimately improve the event’s overall effectiveness and return on investment. More importantly, these are the kind of highly beneficial adjustments that will result in even happier attendees the following year. Happy attendees are the same attendees who recruit their friends to come to the next event, and in the nonprofit community, that kind of word of mouth is the most valuable resource available. When you combine these sorts of customized touches before, during and after the event, you ensure your event becomes cost-effective and highly optimized to be more than just buzz; it becomes a catalyst for results. And all you need to make that happen is the right data.

Putting Data to Use for a Successful Nonprofit Event, September 15, 2014, NTEN, by Matthew Wainwright