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N4P’s: Fly Solo, Share or Merge?


The line between not-for-profits and business is becoming less distinct as N4P’s become more businesslike and businesses accept more social responsibility.

N4P’s continue to look for more creative ways to secure funding as criteria tighten, to elevate simpler fund raising tactics to more sophisticated fund development strategies and to consider the feasibility of programs as possible social enterprises.  All the while, demands on services are increasing.

In many towns, multi agencies may service similar client bases, whether children and their families, persons with developmental disabilities,  people seeking re-employment, immigrants, women, etc.  There isn’t an agency which doesn’t talk about its commitment to being  person-centred but that same agency may be facing gaps and overlaps in services that aren’t meeting client needs.   So what are some solutions?

Going it alone and conducting business-as-usual may be the path of least resistance.  The pros are:  there’s no transition and change to facilitate which is always challenging no matter how much you plan for it.  The cons are:  agencies may be challenged to maintain their  current place in the market, let alone grow, with so much competition. 

Mergers (amalgamations, harmonizations, takeovers…a variety of words are being used) are being discussed both informally and formally.  The prosare:  consolidating resources to, hopefully, achieve greater effectiveness, efficiency, economy of scale and equity of service. The cons are:  it’s easier said than done to muster the courage to set aside turf and egos.  People served may feel, in a bigger organization, they’ll become just a number.  Staff may fear job loss.  Agencies may feel their unique value proposition will be diluted and they’ll fail their clients.  

Sharing resources is also being discussed.  For instance, 9 community health centres (CHCs) in eastern Ontario are investigating how they might share Human Resource policies.  The pros are:  by pooling resources, they can tailor global best practices to support and enhance their own policies and practices, share information for better analysis and decision making, walk the “vision and leadership” talks and make recommendations that will lead to enhanced services for all clients.  The cons are:  finding expertise just-in-time and taking the appropriate time to strategize upfront as it almost always takes more time and resources than initially anticipated.   

And what a social enterprise opportunity sharing resources could be, providing centralized services for like minded organizations.  Imagine the purchasing power of multi agencies rather than one for major expenses like benefits (e.g. medical, dental), consulting (e.g. an HR Audit, Bill 168 Training, a Pay Equity plan), office supplies, technology (e.g. an HRIS), etc.  The efficiencies of neotiating a number of collective agreements with the same union could also be more effective and economical.     

There are no perfect…or simple…solutions!  If like-minded organizations with collaborative leaders and compatible cultures can take some calculated risks to think strategically, be creative (i.e. conduct business-as-un-usual) and act in a systematic way, the result can definitely be win-win-win for persons served, staff and agencies.