VCG/GM Merger: Better Support for Boards and Funders
Everything you ever wanted to know about building, maintaining and supporting your nonprofit board of directors is now under one roof... and accessible from one organization whose sole focus is governance and board-related issues.
For almost 40 years, Volunteer Consulting Group (VCG) has provided customized consulting, recruiting and training services to nonprofit boards and, since 2002, itsboardnetUSA arm has helped nonprofits recruit board members online. To those services, it has added, as of April 28, 2009, the research, web content, guidance for funders, and free information services of Governance Matters, (GM), a 10-year-old organization with a strong focus on workshops, education and online resources.
"Governance Matters provides the perfect complement to what we do, with its content component and with its dedicated people, who are interested in meeting around the issues of governance" says David LaGreca, Executive Director of VCG. "Governance Matters expands our online reach, giving us a quality website with a volunteer process for developing content. In this economic environment, the integration and consolidation of these two organizations makes a great deal of sense."
Michael Davidson, chair of the GM board is equally pleased with the outcome of what has been a year-long process. "[VCG and GM] are in exactly the same field; we have mission fit. That is why it is so good, he says. "They are in the business of promoting good governance. This gives VCG a broadened training and education arm."
Mergers are long processes -- with many details. Sometime egos may need soothing as board or staff members are lost; assets and debts are scrutinized; mission and programs analyzed and melded; and a new identity formed. To assist in this process, the board of GM, which is made up of nonprofit consultants, executive directors and funders, hired a board facilitator to help it answer the first questions: Do we want to merge and, if so, what is the essence of GM that we want to preserve?
That was back in 2006 when the board realized that its business model was not, as Davidson says, "economically sustainable. It was difficult to get foundation and corporate money for this kind of activity. We weren't providing direct service, such as training to individual boards."
While GM was vetting potential partners, including VCG, VCG encountered its own crisis: Brooke Mahoney, founder and Executive Director of the organization since its inception, died, before merger talks could begin. In the midst of that shift, LaGreca returned to VCG, this time as Executive Director, first on a part-time basis and then full time, effective Jan. 1, 2009.
LaGreca clearly saw the connection between the two organizations and that their merger could better achieve the missions of both agencies. As a member of the board of GM -- and a consultant who had facilitated several successful mergers -- he was in a unique position to make this one happen.
"I see it as all of one piece," he says of his new role at VCG and the merger. "The merger came about because the right person was sitting in the right place at the right time. That is the intangible, the quirky part of doing mergers. A situation changes quickly, and things align."
The organizations signed a management services agreement in December of 2008 as a first step toward the merger. The GM office relocated to VCG just as the only GM staff member returned to her legal career. But now the GM volunteers have the professional staff of VCG to support all aspects of the program.
As of April 28, 2009, the two organizations became one, providing customized board consulting, recruiting, and training as VCG has always done. Added to the VCG/boardnetUSA online board recruitment will be GM's educational components and online guidance including the Good Governance Guide, the Board Leadership Project and Ask-the-Experts services.
Davidson is proud of the careful, thoughtful process GM went through -- which he regards as a model for those considering a merger -- yet the outcome, he admits, turned not just on hard work but on serendipity. "True of life in general," he says.
In addition to incorporating the GM mission and rich education component, VCG has added two GM board members to its own board. A new entity, the Program Advisory Committee, includes the remainder of the GM board and continues development of free web content and educational material.
"I am excited by the mutual strategic interests," Davidson says. "It's not just space and a secretary." If you build a board dedicated to mission and not just to an organization, then that board will focus on preserving the mission -- as this merger has accomplished," he says.
"This merger was done for strategic reasons," LaGreca says. "It makes strategic sense and it was done to consolidate and strengthen services to the nonprofit sector. We are in a better position to keep and expand services."