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Charity mergers and trustees - a summer of love and despair

Category:
Author: Sara Dixon
Posted: 31st of October, 2011

Having spent the summer and early autumn dealing with charity mergers, law firm
mergers, joint ventures between profits and not for profits - in fact, a summer
spent bringing perfect strangers together with a view to a better future... - we at Firm
Beliefs cannot but ponder on the role that charity trustees play in this brave
new world of new relationships.

That role varies tremendously.  That is the problem. 

So do attitudes.  Also the problem.   

We are finding that there are rarely cases where both (or more) sets of trustees clearly understand their own role and attitudes, let alone the others' role,  and the process as a whole is often delayed by a lack of clarity around the role and the attitudes of one or more of the trustee boards.


Regardless of charity sector (dogs, carers, international aid), regardless of size (small charity where trustees ARE the day to day workers;  large international charity where trustees rarely meet the employees), regardless of experience of trustees (from the trustee who set up the charity many years ago to the seemingly ubiquitous ‘I donated stacks of cash to this charity and I am a hedge fund manager/banker/business owner...') - there are two clear issues that any merger team must be clear about up front:

1.      What role has the board of X charity played so far in its development? 

2.      What attitude has the board of X charity taken insofar as leading the charity forward thus far?

Because unless these are clear up front, both within X charity itself AND understood by the merging organisation, chaos, delay, uncertainty and even, sadly, failed merger will ensue.

Why the previous role is important:

Has the role hitherto included working with the staff? Charity X Board may or may not have developed a close working relationship with the management/administrative team of Charity X before the merger process.  Certainly they will need to do in the feasibility
process.  Add to this Charity Y who may also be trying to forge a similar working relationship in whether deciding whether to merge, and you have at least 4 groups who have never worked together before, trying to do so. 

Add into this the new Merger Steering Group once things get going and you add yet another group of folk into the mix - reps from the Trustee Board of X and of Y; plus key staff from the Exec teams of X and Y.  Whilst still trying to report back to the Boards of X and Y.  With all of the cultural and managerial and operational differences in language and approach that such mergers bring. 

So an understanding of what role each has
played hitherto is helpful in trying to decide the roles going forward and putting
into place systems and support mechanisms to make sure that all the different
groups work effectively together.



Why previous attitudes are important:

In particular, attitude to change.  For many trustees, their approach to change
has been something tested, or not, in their ‘day jobs'.  Even if they have gone through tremendous changes in their working lives, they may or may not have been ultimately
responsible for delivering on that change.  This may have affected the attitude that the
trustee board as a whole has shown in terms of change for the charity for which
they are ultimately responsible - have they been change averse?  Have they been change aware? 

And for many, regardless of experience in their own working lives, that may not translate into attitude to change as they merge their charity with another.  I think we have all come across the ‘In my commercial role, I have been merged with/lost my job/managed a merger numerous times and this merger for this charity is no different'.  Sadly at the moment,
that attitude prevails all too often.  No merger is ever the same as another - so attitude to change needs to show an element of humility as well as adaptability to the requirements of this particular change.



There are of course many other issues which affect trustees and their role and attitude during a merger - and many trustee boards we have worked with have shown exemplary approaches to both their role and their attitude.  Indeed, the fact that trustees appoint interim independent chairs of merger steering groups to ensure that the merger, not just the interests of the charities, stay at the forefront of the process, regardless of past experience, is to be commended. 


So, trustees need to be clear, up front, about the role they have played hitherto, the attitudes they have shown towards change hitherto - that way they can enquire similarly about the other trustee board/s in the merger.  Once the differences/similarities are ironed
out, the merger process proper can begin.  The courtship that includes a full and frank assessment of one's self, as well as the other, does tend to lead to better outcomes after all.  Even if it is, 'no thanks'.  Better know that sooner rather than later.

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It all goes wonderfully weird when our clients get-together.

Category: News about you
Author: Sara Dixon
Posted: 20th of June, 2014

When our clients get together, that which we expect to happen never does!  Whether that is because our expectations are off-beam or whether we just happen to have quirkily different clients from the norm, I am not sure. I suspect it is the latter and I am sure they won’t mind me making that observation!

For all our existing clients, we run a series of (free) webinars.  This year they are concentrating on the benefits and risks of increasingly important ways of crossing sectors/organisations to merge, joint venture or collaborate informally. 

So far we have covered:

  • the cross-sector working environment, 
  • latest techniques for conducting feasibility studies into collaboration/merger activities, 
  • the changing implications of ‘our walk-away position’,
  • and most recently we looked at the type of measures that organisations will focus on post-merger but which really need to be embedded into the project right from the start of the early ‘shall we have go together’ discussions.   

We have run a number of them twice already and will continue to repeat them as clients wish.

The conversations and discussions have been sparky, informative, thoughtful, operational and strategic.  As you would expect.  So some serious and sensible outcomes.

What has struck me though are the less ‘focused’ outcomes.  These reflect the collaborative and thoughtful nature of our clients.  And their very ‘human’ nature.  All too often, the CEOs and senior management teams of organisations have to maintain a ‘specific face or front’.  During our webinars, they get a chance to show frailties, concerns, their ‘I am not so sure’ face. 

And this makes them human,  the others on the webinar empathise and recognise their own situations.  So it leads to relationship building.

If I were to choose the most valuable outcomes, on a human level, from these webinars I would mention:

  1. Two CEOs had been at school together!  They had lost touch. Suddenly these very wise sensible individuals went back to their ‘long itchy socks and shorts’ days and the conversation flowed.  The rest of us listened as the realisation that they had once known each other and had a shared early history dawned on them.  It set the webinar off on a very informal, friendly and in parts amusing path. 
  2. One Senior Manager was discussing the fact that a much valued team member simply couldn’t cope with the changing nature of the organisation despite bringing very specific and needed skills set to the organisation.  A CEO from another organisation, with a culture which sounded more suited to the struggling team member, offered to meet the team member.  Within 2 months, the team member is now valued, and happier, in the CEO’s organisation.  A smooth transition and everybody happier.
  3. 3 firms have become involved in a joint venture in South America.  One CEO had family contacts there who could support ‘on the ground’,  one charity was seeking to develop one of its services in the region, and a law firm could provide some low price legal support via one of its member organisations in the relevant country.  We foresee a trip to South America soon by all concerned!  Collaborative working at its best.
  4. One Senior Management Team member broke her leg.  She could not easily travel on public transport into London and their offices in Manchester.  A relative of one CEO made the journey regularly into London from the same home village and another organisation had a team member who travelled every day to Manchester.  So – travel sorted!
  5. And perhaps the most bizarre of all (but most useful for me) was the ‘chicken advice’ at the beginning of one webinar.  One of my hens was unwell and spent a few days in the dog crate in my office…  Hearing the sound of a certain amount of chicken clucking, I  had to reveal all and move the laptop towards said chicken so that all could see her…  Suddenly a few ‘chicken fanciers’ revealed themselves from amongst the CEOs and Senior Management folk in on the webinar and advice was given and experiences shared.  Weird!  Bizarre!  Brilliant.

So there you have it.  This is what happens when Firm Beliefs clients get together on ‘sensible’ seminars.  Super clients.  Good learning and development and mutual support.  Unexpected outcomes.  It is what collaboration is all about.

About Carers Trust Business Mentoring programme

Category:
Author: Sara Dixon
Posted: 24th of March, 2014

Mentors for the ADVANCE Network Development Programme

 

 

Carers Trust is looking for volunteers to join their small team of high calibre mentors to lead individual or groups of independent charitable organisations through a development programme over the next 1-2 years. 

Here are the details: 

We are developing a highly skilled team to mentor Network Partners who form the Carers Trust network across the UK, to support them in growing the services they offer to carers and the people they care for.  Our aim is to ensure that Network Partners are in the best possible position to survive and grow in challenging local and fiscal environments.

These are the prerequisite qualities for this crucial role:-

  • a track record of achieving service growth through dynamic, senior leadership,
  • an ability to inspire confidence in the people who work with them,
  • an ability to spearhead service development through strategic thinking and to deliver coherent business plans – to enable people identify not only the what but the how that fits their local situations. 

Mentors already represent the private, public and not for profit sectors. 

Background

Carers Trust is now the largest charitable organisation within the UK that is specifically concerned with addressing the needs of carers.  Together with a network of 161 individual charities, we provide support, information, advice and services for people caring for a family member or friend.

Across the UK, together we make a difference to carers lives by

  • reaching carers of all ages and with a range of caring responsibilities
  • helping carers gain access to local services or delivering them ourselves,
  • making carers views heard by opinion formers and professionals.

Together we help carers connect with everyone and everything that can make a difference to their lives.

By working closely with Network Partners, we aim to ensure that one million carers benefit from the provision of comprehensive high quality services by 2018.  We seek to achieve this by working with Network Partners to implement a strategy for growth and excellence, ensuring that there are no geographical gaps in service provision and that all services are delivered to the same high quality standards across the UK.

To encourage and support Network Partners to actively seek new opportunities and develop services, we are setting up a volunteer business mentor programme to support local leaders and their teams to:

ü  Focus on building sustainable organisations, which generate surplus for charitable use;

ü  Support the delivery of seamless integrated services across the UK that focus on the best outcomes for carers and those they care for;

ü  Align national and local strategies to support the push for growth in services and therefore improved outcomes for carers; and

ü  Encourage and support the development of partnership working between Network Partners.

We see the role of the volunteer mentor as a means of bringing different perspectives and ideas to the way that we approach and think about leadership and management of organisations and how they deliver and develop services for the benefit of carers.

 

Mentor Role and Responsibilities

This is a role that requires mentors to support organisations and people to help drive change at two levels:

  1.  At a local level with Network Partners, to support the review and development of their strategies to ‘survive and thrive’ within an environment challenged by austerity measures. 

Discussions will be undertaken on a confidential basis with either an individual partner or a group of partners who are looking to work in partnership in their local area.  The output of these discussions could be (revised) robust business and action plans, and / or a range of working arrangements which take account of the challenges and opportunities present within each local scenario; and  

  1. At a national level, be part of an overall mentor team with Carers Trust’s UK network support team to help us to identify and prioritise where to focus development resource according to need.

We are looking for senior leaders, experienced professional leaders and managers (and organisations) who can commit time across a 12 month period.  You and the organisation will get the best out of the experience if you are able to volunteer and commit to around 8-10 days across a 12 month period to support this programme in its first year.

Ideally, we would look to match you with Network Partners within a geographical area of your choice (i.e. near home and / or work) across the UK, however, this will depend on the take up from our Network Partners and therefore, a degree of flexibility and ability to travel is also desirable.  Carers Trust will cover all travel costs involved with this volunteering opportunity.

Should you be unable to provide this amount of time but still wish to support the programme, we are also interested to hear from people who can share their specialist business skills in workshops, working alongside mentors who have been assigned to a partner organisation or organisations. 

Skills and experience

 A track record/employment history that demonstrates:

  • Proven leadership, management and / or consulting experience in supporting organisations and teams to develop and grow and have an impact in the sector that they serve;
  • Ability to share skills and knowledge, relevant to a diverse situations and personal styles;
  • Experience of working in a service environment with a strong customer service and quality ethos. This could be in the public, voluntary or private sectors;
  • Strong relationship management skills to be able to inspire, support and challenge the people you are working with;
  • Development and delivery of robust and realistic business plans;
  • Ability to identify and assess evidence to inform and support the development and delivery of business plans;
  • Experience of “troubleshooting” and managing key issues as and when they arise; and
  • Time – mentors recruited on a voluntary basis need to have the time to support Network Partners to develop lasting mentor / mentee relationships to create and deliver on their development goals.

Personal attributes

  • Able to make a difference through others by inspiring people to realise their potential and to feel empowered to drive the changes required in their particular context;
  • Empathetic and self-aware, providing friendly, unbiased support and guidance;
  • Act as a ‘critical friend’ by providing honest and constructive feedback;
  • Bring an outside perspective and expertise relevant to the situation that you are working in by sharing your own experiences of both failures and successes and facilitate decision making by suggesting alternative ideas;
  • Listen, confidentially, to the issues that are worrying people and be a sounding board for ideas; and
  • Be self-aware, open to ideas and able to acknowledge when there is a need to seek advice and information from others.

 

For further information, please contact Rosemary Hawkins, Head of Programmes & QA at Carers Trust on rhawkins@carers.org and / or send your cv along with a covering letter setting out why you are interested in becoming a mentor with Carers Trust.

The feasibility study into business courage - thanks to our clients

Category:
Author: Sara Dixon
Posted: 20th of March, 2014

It started off as a web based get-together about ‘latest techniques for feasibility studies’.  It ended as a discussion about ‘courage in business’.  That is the beauty of getting our clients in a virtual room together to share their thinking and experiences with each other. It starts off in one place and finishes somewhere completely unforeseen!

Yes, we looked at the most useful feasibility techniques used when looking at possibilities of collaboration, joint venture, merger, takeover etc.  But it was the questions, and answers, that gave most insight and shared passion to the webinar.

Questions like:

How do tackle our challenges differently these days?

What aspects of our strategy are we going to drop – whatever the outcome of the feasibility study?

Isn’t culture more important than strategy these days?  Shouldn’t we focus on that before we focus on a future strategy with another organisation?

Will this collaboration beat the market?  Will 1 + 1 = 3 because it has to.

Stakeholders want different things from a feasibility study than they used to.  Do we think they place more focus on that than they do on the proposed business plan for the newly merged organisation?

What do we learn about ourselves even if the merger doesn’t go ahead and what do we do about that?

What are the alternatives to what we are proposing and do feasibility studies cut out alternatives or do they force us to look at alternatives?

And so on…

The answers?  Well – you just had to be there!

Having the time of our lives - Firm Beliefs clients on 'growing with others'

Category:
Author: Sara Dixon
Posted: 18th of February, 2014

'We're in for the time of our lives' said a CEO. So began our first webinar of 2014.

Can you tell which of the two client sectors that CEO came from? Traditionally, the charity sector (as it used to be called) and the law firm sector (as it used to be called) were seen as conservative, slow to change and risk averse - for the most part. Many would find it odd to hear such a remark from those sectors.

Not any more.

The fact that the charity sector is identified, by us at Firm Beliefs, as just a part of the larger Social Impact sector and that we identify law firms as being just part of the larger Legal Services sector tells you something. 

Competition from others - charities compete with for-profits for funding, social impact, beneficiaries.  Law firms compete with non-lawyers and non-law firm entities for the provision of legal advice. 

This means bigger markets.  It means new types of competitor.  It means more opportunity for growth - with other organisations.  It means those who want 'the time of our lives' can have it.

The focus of our 2014 webinars will explore the practicalities of this with our clients.

Points raised during our first Webinar on the environment for growth - be that joint venture, informal working partnerships, merger - were:

1. an active environment

2. a risky environment

3. a shockingly uninformed environment

4. too many are searching for 1 + 1 = 2 (so consolidation) rather than 1 + 1 = 3 (growth)

5. both/all participants need to be strong - one weak + one strong = ROI from venture is not attained

6. try out first - before you merge.  JV perhaps on a project.  Use it as a pilot.

7. don't just grow by collaboration/merger within  your own sector - cross a boundary or two.

So - a good start to the Webinars!  Clients from different sectors comparing and contrasting. And learning from each other.

Many are now fully booked in advance.  We are re-running them.  For more details.  

 

 

Client Webinar series - details released

Category:
Author: Sara Dixon
Posted: 27th of January, 2014

This year, we shall be focusing on informal alliances,  joint ventures,  mergers,  cross-sector dalliances,  stakeholder relationships etc.

The webinars enable our clients to talk with other clients about issues which may or may not be on their radar at the moment, whilst updating their knowledge and learning from new contacts.

For more details: http://www.slideshare.net/sarajdixon

We look forward to you joining us!