Business Volunteers Unlimited (BVU) links Cleveland area businesses to nonprofits and provides consulting, on, among other topics -- nonprofit mergers. Now, they've had the chance to learn first-hand after merging with the Akron based The Center for Nonprofit Excellence (CNE) on September 20, 2011.
I sat down with Brian Broadbent, former President & CEO of BVU and current President & CEO of BVU: The Center for Nonprofit Excellence, to understand what he learned through this process and how it shapes his advice going forward for other nonprofits.
What precipitated this merger?
Three years ago, BVU found that 15 percent of businesspeople in the area wanted to work with nonprofits in and around Akron. That got us thinking about opening an Akron office. So we reached out to CNE about doing a feasibility study -- we didn't want to overlap with anything they did on the nonprofit side and we wanted to focus on what we did on the business side.
They were very gracious and said that that made good sense. We've always had a great relationship with CNE -- we collaborated on our work in the region. And that was critical, that element of trust. Then, a year ago last November, one of my board members sent me a one paragraph note that said that a CNE board member had reached out about collaborating with the intent to merge. And that got the whole thing started.
What was the biggest hurdle to making it happen?
The hardest one was the wording around the mission. The BVU mission is about linking businesses to nonprofits. And CNE had a mission that was longer, but focused on strengthening the nonprofit sector. And that was very important because for us, businesses working to strengthen nonprofits was core to our mission. It ended up including both and starting with the business angle -- we ended with the right balance. The other thing was how we were going to present our name. It became BVU: The Center for Nonprofit Excellence -- so their name became the tagline for the new organization.
What does the combined organization look like now?
We were both strong organizations. At BVU, we serve 130+ businesses, training and matching their members to boards, we have them do volunteer consulting at a free or inexpensive rate and we coordinate team projects. We've involved 23 thousand people in the community doing that. On the nonprofit side we serve 750+ nonprofits, and we ourselves do consulting, do seminars, and help nonprofits do needs assessments. And The Center for Nonprofit Excellence did exactly the same things as BVU, but on the nonprofit side. They offered almost the same seminars as we offer in a city 1 hour south of Cleveland and they have a nonprofit resource center. There were a lot of great synergies.
People are often the hardest part of a merger. How did that play out for you?
Our boards were terrific. We had to share leadership, and we came to a very agreeable spot because of the flexibility of our boards. We combined our boards (to 49 board members) and shared the leadership roles. Theresa Proenza, she was the interim Executive Director of CNE, was fantastic, she's going to be running the Akron office. The board was really an advocate for their employees and made sure everything was fair.
We put together an organizational chart that explained what the roles would be in the merged organization as well as position descriptions. And the board saw them in advance. We weren't (and aren't) going to let anyone go.
It sounds like the interim nature of The Center for Nonprofit Excellence ED was key to making this possible.
Yes. And I think that might be one of the secrets -- their board saw an opportunity, under the circumstances, to make this happen.
What advice do you now give nonprofits given your personal experience?
Number one is to make sure you have good board support. The board members were able to lineup other stakeholders behind this idea -- funders, business leaders. And they had buy in and were able to give advice. That was vital to making this happen. And number two is to make sure you've got the synergies that are right: strong organizations and a good operating model. You need to have rigor in projections, not be too optimistic and be more conservative. It's important to make conservative projections and know that you would be able to live with them.