Mergers and alliances: Are your cultures compatible?

We recently spent some time focusing on organizational culture in June with the Page to Practice feature of The Nonprofit Organizational Culture Guide: Revealing the Hidden Truths that Impact Performance by Teegarden, Hinden and Sturm. The value of knowing your organizational culture cannot be overstated when you realize the impact it has on everyday management decisions, as well as important benchmarks such as executive transitions, restructuring, organizational alignment and mergers.

By choosing to reveal your organization’s culture, the authors say you will be better able to orient new staff and board members, find better leadership matches, better understand and define your theory of change, develop more effective strategies, market and communicate more effectively and make successful choices about restructuring or mergers. In other words, cultural awareness increases your effectiveness in almost every leadership choice you make.

The importance of culture couldn’t be more evident when considering compatibility during a merger or alliance. “There are many good places to look for evidence of a nonprofit’s culture. The key is to look in as many as possible and to assemble what you find into a coherent portrait of the organization,” says Nonprofit Mergers & Alliances author Thomas McLaughlin. McLaughlin further says that not everything listed below will yield insight, and some will contradict others, but overall the list represents a usable roadmap to the nature of culture.

Where to see culture at work, according to McLaughlin:

•         Composition of board and management team

•         Degree of centralization versus decentralization

•         Demographics of clients

•         Demographics of staff

•         Financial investment policies

•         Financial performance

•         Geographic location

•         Management compensation policies

•         Marketing materials

•         Number and type of management meetings

•         Number of board meetings per year

•         Philosophy regarding staff turnover

•         Process for recruiting and selecting new board members

•         Requirements of major funding sources

•         Size of board

•         Size of management team (especially vs. comparable nonprofits)

•         Unwritten/unspoken hiring preferences

Our upcoming feature this month, the second edition of Nonprofit Mergers & Alliances by Thomas McLaughlin was completed when the nonprofit sector witnessed the largest and most spontaneous burst of collaboration interest in our social sector history, according to McLaughlin. This focus on collaboration is the result of the nonprofit sector’s typical two-year lag on economic downturns, pointing upstream to the recession in 2007 and the fall of the subprime mortgage market in 2008.

McLaughlin notes that the more specific reason collaborations are in the spotlight is that the recession was the means for revealing which nonprofits had a weak financial or programmatic structure. Systemic results of the economy coupled with the explosive growth of the number of nonprofits in the last decade have compelled nonprofit leaders to examine the benefits of collaborating. No longer will strategic planning sessions be focused on programs and services; rather mergers and alliances will be the strategic planning of the 21st century.

Email us at for a free article by author Thomas McLaughlin, “Merger Myths: 6 Reason the Package Really Is On the Truck”

For more information about Nonprofit Mergers & Alliances, visit or our Page to Practice™ book summary library.

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