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“We need to evolve to shift the game”: Why merging is key to remaining relevant long into the future

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As government grants diminish and donors become impatient with a lack of outcomes for their donation, merging with other organisations may be key to remaining relevant.

Asthma Australia CEO, Michele Goldman, warned charities and not-for-profits against becoming complacent in the challenging and competitive sector, adding that as “times are getting tougher, we have to get smarter” to continue to be sustainable.

This was Asthma Australia’s goal in 2017 when it merged each of the individual state foundations into the one organisation. Goldman said the foundation “needed to evolve and come up with new approaches to shift the game”, which it has now achieved.

“Innovation is critical,” Goldman said at the 2018 NFP Financial Leaders Summit. “We have to develop new approaches if we are going to change the trajectory and look more broadly outside of health. This includes how we can employ system thinking, design methodologies, collective intact models and partner with other organisations.”

Goldman said the year-long strategy included analysing the organisation’s impact both inside and outside the foundation, integrating the organisations into the one group, establishing a trusted and expert voice for the sector and becoming more diverse.

Goldman added it was clear the individual organisations would not be sustainable as separate entities. In some cases, there were programs operating in different states and territories but bringing in the same information, thus duplicating the results.

“We were always strapped in our resources and as a result we were focused on doing a lot of different things and not doing a few things really well,” Goldman said. “It’s not every day that you have an opportunity to have a blank sheet of paper and reallocate resources to achieve real impact.”

By merging, duplication was reduced and the organisations became more effective. Goldman said the merged organisations operating as one increased profile and influence in the community and in turn increased funding and amplified results.

“One message for those who are considering mergers and are finding it hard to do is that it is not necessarily a one-step process, but a journey,” Goldman said. “It was clear we could create new opportunities by becoming the one entity.”

At first, New South Wales and Queensland established a blueprint to make it easy for each entity to join, including a new legal structure that ensured neither NSW nor QLD would have more control and that there were no skeletons in the closet.

“Mergers are not for everyone,” Goldman said. “There are benefits of being small and having a large number of charities in Australia in terms of being innovative and tackling complex issues in new ways and coming up with local solutions for local problems. These are really good reasons for maintaining small organisations.

“But mergers are well suited if there is a duplication of processes and putting that aside and looking at what would be possible if you combined your resources or whether you could deliver better on your vision.”

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