Photo courtesy of xrrr.
This week Mobilize.org announced it would acquire the assets, staff and programs of Generation Engage. In some ways, it’s surprising to see this merger because it’s not something done every day. In other ways, it’s not surprising at all.
Generation Engage has worked since 2004 to encourage youth civic engagement and to fight the political isolation of youth, particularly those in community college systems. Mobilize.org was founded in 2002 to get the youth of America engaged in the political process and empower them to influence public policy. Their missions are basically identical. They were both founded and are run by Millennials. They are both based in Washington, D.C. The organizations have worked together on a number of projects, including the 80 Million Strong coalition last year. Their similarities might make you wonder why they didn’t merge before now. This merger will save thousands of dollars every year and, if all goes as planned, truly make the resulting organization “more powerful than the sum of its parts,” as Maya Enista says in her announcement letter.
They are doing what many organizations are unwilling to do – recognizing their many commonalities and merging to form a more powerful organization. While there will undoubtedly be growing pains, I’m interested to see where they are six months or a year from now and how they are able to leverage each other’s strengths to move the dial on youth civic engagement. I’m especially glad to see this move from two Millennial-driven and Millennial-focused organizations. One of our strengths as a generation is our collaborative way of working toward change. And this collaboration is not without sacrifice. Generation Engage chairman Justin Rockefeller put the values and mission of the organization he has spent five years building ahead of his personal ego and his organization’s legacy. Much like I have asked Millennials to consider whether starting a new nonprofit is the best use of their resources and passion, Justin seems to have recognized that his team could better serve its mission and have greater impact as part of Mobilize.
Since the economic crisis, financial necessity has driven more organizations to consider and discuss mergers like the one announced this week between Mobilize and Generation Engage. Twenty percent of nonprofits polled by Bridgespan last year said mergers could play a role in how they respond to the economic downturn. But as Bridgespan points out, tight budgets are not the only reason for considering a merger. Just as hardship and necessity often push people to innovations and inventions they would benefit from under ordinary circumstances, mergers can be a smart strategy for healthy organizations as well. Just because two groups of people can afford to run extremely similar organizations does not mean they should.
While for-profit mergers and acquisitions are often incentivized and orchestrated by strategic planners and financial backers, nonprofits cannot always find the same type of support. This may be changing a bit (for example, The Knight Foundation is helping in the Mobilize and Generation Engage partnership), but nonprofits interested in the possibility of a merger may have to get creative as well. In the Stanford Social Innovation Review last year, consultant Jean Butzen suggested nonprofits look to current donors, capacity-building grant programs in your community, national funding opportunities, and pro bono services. For additional resources on nonprofit mergers, check out the Lodestar Foundation and LaPiana Consulting. For now, I tip my hat to Mobilize and to Generation Engage, wish them the best of luck and will be looking forward to reporting on their progress later this year.