United front Featured

12:17pm EDT August 31, 2005
Dollars from donors can be hard to come by for nonprofits, so it’s imperative to use every last cent as efficiently as possible to achieve the maximum benefit for the community.

When Anne Goodman took over as executive director of the Cleveland Foodbank six years ago, there were three organizations in the community all aiming for the same goal: The elimination of hunger.

But having three organizations meant there were obvious redundancies that were wasting money that could be going to feed the hungry instead.

“I believe personally that the nonprofit community has an obligation to use donors’ dollars as wisely as possible,” says Goodman. “We want to take care of feeding the hungry, but we need to be running like a business and eliminate redundancies or extra money being spent. An increase in efficiencies is imperative.

“When I started out here, we had three organizations overlapping between what we did and what they were doing. We had individuals and foundations giving to all of them, but our customers were the same. There were some clear duplications.

“We at the Foodbank saw a crucial need to increase the efficiency of the foodbank system. We felt like it was a moral imperative. In order to maximize the dollars spent, we needed to consolidate efficiencies.”

Taking the vision from concept to reality required careful negotiations with the other organizations.

“It is a delicate process with any organization because there is a lot of ownership the staff and board feel over what they are doing, and that’s tremendous,” says Goodman. “No one took anyone over, we just began conversations on what could be possible. It took awhile, but they were all open to the notion and interested, so we just kept putting one foot in front of the other. The first merger was with Food Rescue of Northeast Ohio.

“When it actually came about and it was time for the first merger, everyone was on board. All the fears had been allayed and nothing was lost by either organization in the process.”

By working out all the details beforehand, the whole merger process went smoother. Everyone knew exactly what they were supposed to do and how they fit into the new, larger organization. But getting to that point wasn’t easy.

“Everyone wanted to maintain the way it was, but it wasn’t that simple,” says Goodman. “The way we did it, we shared the vision with the staff and the board and then worked through the difficult details. If you take the time to gather buy-in and hear the different vantage points there are, then you end up with a whole institution wanting to merge rather than a few strong-willed people trying to get their agenda across.

“It took time building that consensus. Everyone got to weigh in, because there is a lot of fear when you do something like this.”

Merging with the Greater Cleveland Committee on Hunger, which ran the Harvest for Hunger campaign, took even more planning because there were numerous government and related nonprofits involved in its common cause. It took meeting with all the invested parties over the course of a year, but that resulted in a seamless merger.

The overall vision had to be broken down into smaller component parts to solve problems as they arose.

“We had to take the difficult or complicated chunks and take a good look at them so there was a road map of how literally to do it,” says Goodman. “As an example, in the first merger, we had an operation that did boxes in and boxes out of food. We were merging with an organization that did a bunch of produce. We had to have a bunch of people look at how to integrate that.”

While there was a lot of enthusiasm from all sides about the merger, carefully integrating the staffs was a priority.

“There’s that uncertainty of change,” says Goodman. “We tried very hard with our staff to acclimate everyone to what was going on. The day we merged, I met with each one of them individually.

“The more upfront work you do, the better. Paying attention to employees in advance and what their concerns are is important. At the end of the day, it’s the employees that will make it work, so taking care of them is crucial.”

How to reach: Cleveland Foodbank, (216) 738-2265