When Should We Talk about Partnerships + Mergers?

February 9, 2023

This blog post is penned by Kate Piatt-Eckert, Forefront’s New Mission Sustainability Initiative (MSI) Director. MSI is a program dedicated to helping nonprofits thrive by providing the resources for leaders to regularly and thoughtfully explore collaboration and partnership strategies. 

There are the friends we call when we need a hand moving something heavy, and the ones we reach out to when we want to dish about some nonsense that just happened, and of course the ones who call us every time they’re in trouble. If we’re really lucky we find friends who become a part of us, who make us better, stronger, braver versions of ourselves, and for whom we do the same in turn. Our world is brighter, and so much more is possible, because of these friends, and it’s nothing short of remarkable.

Organizations need friends, too, and just like human friends, these organizational friends (we’ll call them collaborators) come in all shapes and sizes. Collaborations fill different needs and expand different capacities in our organization’s ability to do our work, serve our community, and advance our mission. We connect with some collaborators for just a little while, and others are around for long haul. There are casual acquaintances who invite us to participate in their programs, and there are buddies with whom we co-produce events. Sometimes there are those ride-or-die partners that become inseparable – organizations that can do more together than they possibly could separately, whose missions fit together like puzzle pieces, and whose staffs complement each other’s skills and experience. These game-changing collaborations, what we call “strategic partnerships,” are the stuff of the Mission Sustainability Initiative (MSI) at Forefront.

Inspired by an expansive definition of collaboration, a deep commitment to equity and inclusion, and a genuine investment in the success and vitality of the people of Illinois and the non-profit organizations that serve them, I joined Forefront in January as the new Director of the MSI. I am honored by the opportunity to continue the work of my MSI predecessors, and the more organizations I meet in this role, the more humbled I am by the chance to support the extraordinary work happening at non-profits across the state. The MSI is here to explore and support collaboration, and I’m here to bring these conversations into the every day.

No one wants to be that friend who only calls when they’re locked out of their apartment with no shoes or stuck at a rest stop on I90 with no way home. While times of organizational crisis sometimes lead to talks of mergers, we don’t need to wait for a fiscal cliff or an unexpected challenge to begin exploring the kind of deep partnerships that are built on mutual respect, mission alignment, and a shared vision of increased impact.

So, when should we begin building a lasting partnership with another organization? Today’s good. Next week, maybe. Certainly during the next strategic planning process or at the next board retreat. Considering how we can build a stronger, more impactful organization by working in concert with other organizations can be as much a part of everyday non-profit planning as building budget projections and writing grant reports. The MSI is a multi-faceted resource for this exploration, from the first blush of a new collaboration to the nitty gritty of merging databases and beyond. We provide support in four key areas:

  • Free confidential, friendly, and helpful conversations, with advice on accessing information and assistance. Whether you need to talk something through or get a gut-check on a partnership idea you’re exploring – if you’re nervous about talking to a stakeholder, or if you need help navigating the seemingly infinite pool of resources available – I’m here to talk!
  • A wealth of free resources, including research, best practices, workshops, and more. There are links to a lot of information on the MSI webpage, and I’m happy to help guide your research and point you toward resources that might be helpful. I can also connect you with other Forefront programs and services that might be just what you need.
  • Referrals to legal assistance and consultants. Our roster of vetted consultants has a wealth of experience and expertise in a wide range of topics – you can find the full list online or reach out to me for help in narrowing it down.
  • Grants for one-time costs incurred in assessing organizational readiness for, exploring, or implementing a strategic partnership. Wherever you are in your process, there may be funds available to help defray the direct costs of partnership exploration. We’ve made the application process pretty quick and painless, and it starts with a conversation with me – I hope you’ll reach out.

There’s no bad time to make a new friend, and there’s no telling how that friend might change our life. Wherever you are in your organization’s trajectory, I hope you’ll consider the catalytic power of strategic partnership. I joined the Forefront team because I know that we can do so much more together than we could dream of doing alone, and I can’t wait to work with you to build a connected, collaborative, vibrant future.

Contact Kate at kpiatteckert@myforefront.org to learn more about how MSI can be a resource to your organization.


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