Tips for a Successful Merger

by Britt Thomas

It’s been just over four years since the merger of two non-profits to create Marbles Kids Museum in Downtown Raleigh. While the pace has been fast and furious, it is rewarding to see the success of the museum and related educational programs offered at Marbles. In just four years Marbles has become the sixth most visited attraction in North Carolina, bringing more than 250,000 guests annually to the museum and over 500,000 across the campus which includes the Wells Fargo IMAX Theatre. Marbles Kids Museum is a wildly popular community asset serving visitors from across North Carolina.

The following tips were critical in making our merger successful.

  1. Take the time necessary to exhaust all options of maintaining separate entities. The merger of two organizations is not a simple task or one to be taken lightly. Attempt to collaborate, such as sharing services between organizations, before moving forward with a merger. A merger should create a new organization with a shared vision that can only be attained by merging.
  2. Use the best of both merged entities. If each organization has a unique audience and mission, choosing one direction over the other can cause dissention. Build cohesiveness and buy-in from the onset by involving board members and staff in creating the mission and vision of the merged organization. Explore the strengths and pitfalls of both organizations – we all have them – and embrace the respective strengths to move forward with energy and direction.
  3. Once a mission is determined, invest time and resources into developing a brand and identity for the new organization. Both organizations must be willing to invest in creating the new identity – and rarely do organizations “save” money by merging. Embrace in-kind and community support to help cast a wide net of involvement in your success. A merger can potentially confuse the community and your patrons if communication is not clear; mergers are most successful if the immediate community believes in and supports the new mission. Attorneys, CPAs and consultants are typically involved in protecting both organizations throughout the merger process.
  4. Evaluate the commitment of staff and board members from both organizations. Staff and board members’ strong loyalty to an original organization can hold back progress for the merged organization. Evaluate staff and boards for right-fit talent who are fully committed to the new merged organization, and attempt to respect cultural considerations of each organization – such as schedules, work environment and benefits. Our merger team hired Sally Edwards, a local business woman with incredible marketing and creative talent, from outside both organizations to lead the combined team through the merger process. Sally’s leadership as President of Marbles has been instrumental in keeping Marbles focused on its new mission and moving forward instead of looking back.

So much has come to life at Marbles in such little time because we listen to our core audience – kids and families – and because we involve the community in creating our child-led experiences. Broad community support continues to help us carry out our mission of inspiring imagination, discovery and learning through extraordinary adventures in play.

Bottom Line: Careful thought when planning a merger can result in greater success for both of the original entities.

Britt Thomas worked as the Financial Manager for Playspace for 8 years prior to the merger with Exploris. She is currently the Vice President of External Affairs for Marbles Kids Museum.

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