Sample: The Background
Our two organizations, the Latino Art Alliance and Art España, grew up together and over the decades, our friendship flourished through long-term staff and board relationships as well as frequent collaboration on national policy issues, the L.A. County Arts Conference, special projects and private and public funding. Outwardly, our organizations have much in common –we both are highly involved in promoting art among the Latin American communities in Los Angeles, successful marketing programs, and consistent funding.
Also, our operating philosophies and practices are similar in some ways, but different in other ways. Latino Art Alliance has a hands-on entrepreneurial style, a reputation for coordination of special projects, and a concern for equitable distribution of funds. Art España tends to assume a more hands-off approach with a commitment to open opportunity for artists and communities to compete and win on the basis of quality.
Sample: The Challenge
We began wondering if our two organizations might gain economies of scale and avoid duplication of process and staff by collaborating on and consolidating our programs. We began examining the feasibility of merging our performing arts touring programs into one for some events and possibly permanently. For single events, we could save costs, attract higher-profile artists and reach a larger audience.
Both of our boards were excited about the possibilities, but the staff were not as energized. Many expressed hesitance to any merger – even on occasional projects. They felt that we’ve built strong ties in the community, and while a larger organization would bring more resources, they felt that we’d lose touch with smaller artists and only focus on promoting larger acts.
Sample: The Solution
We felt that no matter what happened, it was important for both of The Latino Arts Alliance and Art España to maintain their identities throughout the process. Our leadership worked together to develop many possible plans. One was an annual co-sponsorship of an event and touring show. This would bring our organizations together and give us a chance to work together. This plan didn’t seem as ambitious as it needed to be. Another plan was for us to merge completely, develop a new name and re-market ourselves as one new, larger organization. This proved to be too costly and time-consuming.
We ultimately decided to combine our boards, yet keep each organization’s name and staff separate. Each Executive Director still runs their individual nonprofit, yet they interact with their counterpart more often for larger events. Now both organizations are able to collaborate on big picture issues and pool our resources, while still maintaining an individual presence in the community.
Sample: Lessons Learned
The Latino Art Alliance and Art España are both stronger now as a result of our combination. We now know how much of an influence each of our brands have in the community, and we’re glad that we’re able to maintain those, while still benefiting from the combined resources.
However, we did lose some staff due to the uncertain nature of our merger at the beginning. If we were to undertake this endeavor again, we’d do more planning up front among the Executive Directors and with both Boards before we announced anything to the rest of the organizations. We were uncertain as to how to announce our plans to our staffs and to the community, and we let rumors about our plans run rampant. Now, we understand how critical consistent communication is to running our nonprofits, and in this merger it was even more important. An effective communication strategy will definitely be a part of everything we do in the future.