You’re not imaging things if it seems like nonprofit charitable organizations are popping up like sweet corn in the summer. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, more than 1.5 million nonprofits were registered with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in 2015—an increase of 10.4% from 2005.
Is this a good thing?
On the one hand, Americans are incredibly generous, donating $427.71 billion to charity in 2018. On the other hand, more nonprofits mean more competition for those dollars and the duplication of services, both of which can limit a nonprofit’s effectiveness. When nonprofits can’t pursue their missions effectively, those who benefit from their services may suffer.
The issue of whether or not some nonprofits might be better off merging in order to be more efficient and successful in fulfilling their objectives and meeting their goals is a real one. But for the average donor, or those designating an organization in a will or trust, learning that a favorite nonprofit is merging with another nonprofit can raise questions about what this means immediately and in the long run.
The urge to merge
Philanthropy can be incredibly personal. We are motivated to donate time and money to organizations that represent some of our most deeply felt attachments and interests, so when a beloved nonprofit announces it is merging with another one, it can feel like a kind of betrayal.
A merger is a kind of partnership in which two or more organizations become a separate entity. Mergers between and among nonprofits can be well-planned, strategic, and result in greater collective impact and growth. Or, they can be messy, fraught, and lead to confusion and a loss of support.
Nonprofit mergers are more common than you might think and even though they’re often seen as simply a survival tactic to stave off financial ruin, they can take place for many different reasons:
- Expand the range or improve the quality of services each provides by pooling and leveraging resources
- Diminish competition between organizations that vie for donors, board members, and funding
- Compensate for the loss of a founder or key leader that leads the board to question its viability
- Establish stronger strategic positioning with funders, competitors, and policymakers
- Formalize an existing relationship or collaboration
Donors and nonprofit mergers
While a merger might be good for a nonprofit, what about donors or volunteers?
Nonprofits should send out a notice to stakeholders early in the merger process and be completely transparent. It’s a smart step to make supporters aware of the following:
- The reasons behind the merger
- Information about the other nonprofit and how each organization’s mission and programs align
- A timeline and status updates
- The names of the merger team
- Any anticipated changes in leadership
If donors plan to give a donation during life or make a charitable bequest through an estate plan will they go to the new organization? Or the old organization? For donors, one way to make certain a donation is honored for the purpose it’s given by setting clearly articulated expectations. Merging nonprofits can honor this by offering options for donors to do this via a templated form.
Nonprofits are often reluctant to merge because they fear alienating loyal donors, but a merger can mean reducing costs. It can also mean cutting duplication of services and increasing reach and effectiveness for the charity. Nonprofits that effectively articulate these benefits to their loyal funders will be unlikely to lose supporters of the mission. Furthermore, it’s a good idea to invest in a strong set of policies and procedures, including a gift acceptance policy so that equal standards for all gifts are communicated to current and prospective donors.
Donors that happen to already support both nonprofits already, should consider contributing the total amount to the merged nonprofit. The old nonprofits will cease to exist upon the merger, but that shouldn’t be let that be a reason to end full support for the causes the donor cares about!