Effectively Merging Non-Profits

I apologize for missing my postings on Monday and Tuesday, I was away at a retreat to examine and discuss how to effectively merge the booking consortium to which I belong with the consortium that it spun off from. The meetings occurred in another part of the state and I didn’t have ready access to a computer and the time to write entries.

I use the phrase “effectively merge,” the same words we used throughout most of our discussions, because the truth is that an actual merger of two non-profits is a lengthy, involved and expensive process. What will happen in reality is that the one organization will be dissolved and its assets and members will be transferred to the other as is allowed by its founding documents. But in effect, it is a merger.

A good portion of the first day seemed to be spent composing the correct syntax for the required motions that would be made the next day at the annual meetings of both organizations to start this process. Since we already intended to rewrite our bylaws per the suggestions of an attorney we consulted, we were resolved to dedicate the next year to working on the rewrite. We also were determined to examine the organization and what we wanted it to be. As a consequence, both groups will remain in existence as separate entities for another year laboring jointly to define the bylaws and purpose of the combined organization.

Even though it is likely to be the most dry and boring, I joined the Governance and Membership Committee just for the experience of redefining the nuts and bolts of the organization. I figured it would make good material for blog posts if nothing else.

I also joined the Artistic Selection Committee. The other committees are Marketing/Sponsorship/Grants and Education. Among the things the committees are going to explore are what does it mean to be a member? What are the benefits of participation? Should membership be tiered to both allow casual partnerships with non-member groups and provide greater benefits to those who are more extensively involved.

We are going to examine how we go about selecting artists to present in the context of many different factors. Since we would like to pursue gaining sponsorships as a group and offer companies the opportunity to have exposure across the state, we will have to decide how the program is designed and the sponsored show is chosen. There is also the big issue of whether such arrangements will endanger relationships individual members had with these companies previously. Why sponsor shows at a single venue when you can do so across the entire state? On the other hand, perhaps your brand is diminished by having your name associated with theatres that serve a less elite clientele and you don’t want your ads appearing in their programs.

There are similar questions for the education area. A recent partnership resulted in an experience between schools, audiences and artists that could have yielded a more extensive interaction had the time and resources been available to exploit the situation. If these are the opportunities we want to pursue, where do the staff hours and other resources come from?

That brings us back to the work of the other committees exploring what it means to be a member and what sort of investment in the organization is needed to benefit from its efforts, including any packages put together to offer potential sponsors.

One of the desires stated this week was to expand the membership to include other arts organizations around the state. By redesigning the purpose of the organization a little, we hope to increase our relevance to other groups. They may only do a show once or twice a year, but they can find the process greatly facilitated by our expertise. I think there could be a reciprocal benefit. Perhaps connections the new groups have open up more churches and schools to chamber concerts and outreaches. (Or local artists and churches/schools became more aware of each other.)

So my question here at the end of the entry is this—has anyone had any experiences similar to this? I have to help generate bylaws and policies to guide this organization and it would be nice not to reinvent the wheel. Are you a member of a consortium or partnership between different arts organizations which works together to achieve certain goals?

I am looking more for an arrangement where all decisions and initiatives are generated and executed by the members rather than a situation like an arts council where the council works to advance the interests of the members. We operate as a board organization rather than a membership organization. Though I would be interested in learning about any multi-organizational partnership arrangement that diverges from everyone else does.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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