Keelan: Is now the time for nonprofits to think about merging?

By Don Keelan

Ever since the stay at home mandate was issued and tens of thousands of Vermonters were laid off, countless news stories have been written about what the financial impact has been on Vermonters. The same holds true for small businesses, hospitals, medical offices, town governments, and for Vermont’s nonprofit community.

It is the latter that I wish to focus on. It is not known what the economic impact has been or will be on nonprofits, but it has to be awful. There are about 4,500 nonprofit organizations in Vermont, ranging in size from $50,000 in annual revenue upwards to hundreds of millions. The sector employs close to 20% of the state’s workforce and has, by some estimates, over a $6 billion impact on the state’s economy.

As a sector, the nonprofit world has been hit even more so than any other. It has had to shut down its facilities and cancel planned programs and events that historically were at the heart of their annual revenue receiving schemes. And if that wasn’t bad enough, another major source of funding, annual donations, has been seriously curtailed. The latter has a lot to do with so many Vermonters out of work, the downturn in the stock markets, and of course the uncertainty as to when the country will get back to normalcy.

Don Keelan

However, maybe there is a positive that can be realized from the existing crisis. Maybe nonprofits should use this time to seriously evaluate whether it is time to think of merging, affiliating, or even consolidating with other area or regional nonprofits.

Since 2003, the beginning of my writing a bi-weekly column, I have brought up the above on at least four occasions as part of a series of over 75 columns pertaining to the nonprofit sector. The underlying reasons at the time were that there were just too many doing the same thing; petitioning the same donors, volunteers, and public for attention. My appeal went unheard even after 911, the 2008 financial crash, and in 2011, Tropical Storm Irene. The nonprofits were able to squeak by and survive. This may not be the case today.

I am not unmindful of the passion, emotion, energy, and history that prevails among those who have dedicated so much to maintain their cherished nonprofit. It makes no difference if that treasured organization is a museum or historical center, a food pantry or a recreational facility, an art gallery or a theater for the performing arts — to so many they are special.

But now the mission is to survive and to do so, the thinking has to be objective and not the heretofore, we will just cut costs and plod along.

The way to do this is for board members and executive directors not to perceive that they are operating from weakness. By no means should this be the case. They are operating from a position of common sense and reality and the time is now.

Organizations with similar missions should begin the narrative. For example, this could consist of the many nonprofits whose mission it is to feed the area’s population that are food insecure.

To a large degree, historic centers and museums also have similar missions and should also be in discussion — if just to think about affiliating by not duplicating marketing, fundraising, accounting, and purchasing.

What is happening in our schools under Act 46 should prompt the nonprofit environment to take up the subject of merging. I ask, what if the seven Vermont colleges that have recently closed had discussed merging or affiliating? Would some form of their mission still be in existence today?

Another question that might be asked is, if we had to start with a clean slate, meaning there are no nonprofits, would we have created 4,500 to carry out their current missions?

Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.

Image courtesy of Public domain

12 thoughts on “Keelan: Is now the time for nonprofits to think about merging?

  1. Be sure to scroll down to the first comment (made by Edward Letourneau). It defines the problem.

  2. No question the squeeze is real. Just in the past couple of weeks, I have received emergency appeals for funds from a wide range of nonrofits.

  3. Many of these non-profits are heavily involved with central planning efforts that cripple Vermont’s business climate and stifle growth as well as interfere with our free markets. They form coalitions of influence that overpower and dominate our states legislative agendas in favor of global world order agendas. This creates negative financial pressures on average Vermonters and that in turn is perhaps why we have so many charitable non-profits in our state.

    Non-profits seeking global goals are part of a very powerful lobby that also funnels their agendas through at least 11 regional planning commissions put in place some 50 years ago, these commissions act as a conduit that feeds these foreign agendas to our municipalities, were they are sometimes perceived as mandates and adopted as zoning ordinance, even when there is no state statue requiring it.

    Unfortunately this is type of non-profit has deep pockets and will continue to tamper with the sovereignty of our governance, while insisting the green new deal will save our state from the ravages left in the wake of the COVID – 19 crisis.

    • Let the market decide much? Many thanks Ms. Edmunds for bringing the eyeopener. Think we all know something like this is going on as they are in fact power brokers who hold court in the statehouse throughout session. But don’t know how to articulate full extent of their fraudulance and chicanery.

      Why should they be propped at all – will only allow these schemers to continue parasytical existance. This is a silver lining – the ones who deserve to fail will fail as donor class market works its magic. Bring on the wrecking ball.

    • Lynn you are simply amazing, well written and totally on the money. You are one of the finest commentators. How come all these great people that have true knowledge of what is going on don’t haven’t come together? It’s a serious question. There are so many people out their that write and understand.

      There are even more that don’t comment, or in many cases are even afraid to support with positive up votes on sites like Digger.

      How is it we are stuck with dysfunctional uncooperative long time people in power that are allowing our little state to be total flushed. I’d love to have your insight and a bunch of others comment on this. It’s a most pressing problem.

      • Neil,
        We do not have access to the catalyst that would bring us together, that is a free press and an open exchange of unfiltered ideas. We are but on the outside looking in and to organize into one effective and functional group would be nearly impossible logistically.

        We have been separated from our governance and are living in a parallel universe, one segment, our government, going through the motions as if nothing has changed and the other, the new world order, non-profit sector, chipping away at our fundamental principles and freedoms while hiding behind a shield of doing good work.

        A curse has been placed on us; I have dubbed it “The Curse of a Benevolent Cause” because it is all based on the premise of doing good work. And the first thing required to set things in motion is a manufactured crisis, after that it’s all downhill.

        Make no mistake we are governed by nonprofits and bureaucrats, our elected officials are on the other hand just window dressing, and or useful pawns.

        However non-profits are not just used for lobbing, they are used for recruiting activists as well, it is a fragmented approach, but can address many fronts with the one issue mentality of people looking to make a difference or seeking recognition.

        • Your words about recruiting activists… so prophetic, perfect and addresses a root cause of the issues we face. I wonder how many understand what you’ve said in that little paragraph.

          Those who know could be transformational to a little republic that sports mountains of verdant green vegetation.

  4. The issue with nonprofuts everywhere is…. generally ….that more than one occupy the same space, or there is significant overlap between distinct nonprofits as far as the services they provide to whomever they serve

    It is rare that two Executives from competing nonprofits will see the wisdom and act on the notion of a merger.

    In fact, I have seen executives organizations pay the price for even suggesting it, in the form of dues paying members quitting on both sides for even suggesting it

    Even when two competing nonprofit executive directors agree that a merger is right, , it is often the boards that are the the obstacle. to do what is an obvious and prudent course to everyone else, silly things such as getting stuck, unable to combine boards, kill what’s best for the members long term

  5. Non-profits are an essential segment of Vermont’s economy and culture. It’s beyond time for consolidation. Now it should be done.

    The difficulty will be merging missions, not organizations.

    • Vermont non-profits are the biggest cover for lobbyist and political operatives ever invented. Vermont has yet another epidemic of corruption and it’s found in our non-profits. We have more non-profits per capita than most any place. We are not a different superior race in Vermont. We didn’t earn on of the lowest ethical grades in the nation for being good boy scouts.

    • Best comment ever.

      Almost as bad as Grants and grant writers. I was at a meeting and they asked how would you determine which grants are good and which are bad. To which I said, “If it’s grant it’s automatically a poor use of money, they are all bad. Nobody else would support the idea monetarily so they had to ask for grants.”

      It’ s the same thing with the local vat tax. The people are generally reasonable. They will support their community and solid ideas. Our area is strongly pushing for a local option tax, but all the ideas they listed have already been thrown out as bad or a misuse of money.

      Public Transportation, in towns of $1500?

      Support of business, the local chamber fails on many sides.

      Affordable housing, we simply don’t allow it or want it, we’d only be supporting non-profits to build their rental properties

      Surely there have to be some epic bike paths or some new pocket parks that meet the criteria.

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