Undertaking an Initial Association Merger Assessment

Have you ever thought about merging your association or organization with another organization? In today’s increasingly competitive environment, an association merger is one way to enhance member value and create efficiencies. Of course, mergers aren’t for everyone.

So, once you think it might make sense to merge or your members raise the issue of merging with another organization, what is the next step? Ultimately, considerable work needs to be done to make a merger work. However, conducting an initial assessment follows a fairly standard framework.

Sound Rationale

The first step is to develop sound rationale for the merger. Often mergers that make sense, make sense because there are multiple reasons for consolidating the organizations. Justifications could include such concepts as consolidating overlapping membership, increasing market share and visibility, broadening product and service offerings, cost savings and / or providing a more focused voice for the industry.

Consolidated Organization Benefits

Next, clearly list all of the benefits of the consolidated organization. For example, one benefit might be a stronger and more forceful voice for the industry, which will reduce confusion with the public and government officials. Other benefits could be positives such as: fewer redundancies in services resulting in a reduction of combined overhead costs, reduced competition for funding that optimizes revenue generation or a consolidation of effort that reduces duplication and aids program development and execution.

Specific Benefits to Each Organization

A separate inventory of benefits needs to be developed for each organization involved in the merger. Keep in mind that the respective membership groups will want to know what is in it for them. A merger will be extremely difficult if not impossible to execute if you can demonstrate ample benefit accruing to each organization.

Downsides

An honest and upfront assessment must be done to identify all of the possible downsides of merging the associations. It is critical that this is done early in the process. If you don’t identify them early on, it is highly likely that members who are not fully supportive of a merger will raise them if and when the process goes forward. The pitfalls of merging must be evaluated alongside the benefits when a final decision to move forward (or not) is being made. In fact, knowing the pitfalls gives you an opportunity to develop strategies to mitigate negative impacts.

Political Sensitivities

Although you may want to do more extensive market research later on in the process, in the initial stages of assessing the feasibility of a merger it is important to understand where different factions of the organizations stand with regard to a merger concept. As soon as possible you want to find out if there are groups or influential individuals who will resist a merger irrespective of the benefits. The fact is, egos matte when it comes to merger discussion in many volunteer organizations. Knowing what you’re up against is an important factor to be considered before a sound merger strategy is developed and it creates an opportunity early on to start winning these people over. In fact, serious consideration should be given to including the “opposition”’ in the early discussions.

Next Steps

Once there is agreement in general by both boards to move forward with merger discussions and the initial assessment has been conducted, the real work begins. Here are some of the next steps that need to be taken: decide if it would be helpful to engage an outside, neutral facilitator to assist in the negotiations;  determine if you need confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements; determine how much information the two organizations will share, who will be responsible for releasing it and how it will be disseminated; determine who will represent each entity in the negotiations; undertake a merger due-diligence inquiry / review that examines corporate, intellectual property, tax and finance issues, among others; execute a document review; determine if there is any dissonance in the mission and core values of the respective organizations, develop a new organizational chart that outlines the new structure, including staff and governance (if applicable) structure; determine if any favorite programs of either organization will need to me modified or dropped. Of course, you will also have to have a clear understanding of the merger / voting requirements of each organization based on their bylaws and / or applicable law.

After engaging in merger discussions and considering mergers with a number of associations, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most important considerations are often the personalities and egos of the members. Underestimating these aspects and not making them a priority consideration throughout the process can lead to a failed merger irrespective of the rationale and benefits that would accrue to the individual organizations, their respective memberships and the merged organization. Bottom line, it is really important to understand the perceived impact the merger will have on all involved: staff, volunteer leaders and memberships.

What has your experience been when it comes to mergers?

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