Florida Grantmakers Walk the Talk on Collaboration

“Collaboration” is a word that has been bandied about a lot in the philanthropy and nonprofit sectors in recent years, with calls for nonprofit collaboration escalating after the recession hit in 2008. With the recent announcement of the merger of Florida’s two largest philanthropy associations, Florida Philanthropic Network (FPN) and Donors Forum of South Florida (DFSF), Florida grantmakers offer a real-life example of the benefits that can be gained by collaborative restructuring in our sector. I know I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to walk the talk on collaboration.

I was part of a four-member team assigned by FPN’s board of directors to lead the merger effort for our organization, working closely with a similar team assigned by the DFSF board of directors. Right from the start I was struck by the constructive tone of the discussions. Everyone approached the process in the spirit of doing what was best for Florida’s philanthropy sector – not what was best for any of us personally or for our individual organizations. I think that was a critical factor in reaching a successful outcome.

Even with a positive start, it still took us eight months to navigate through a process before being able to reach the point of agreement on a merger. That’s another big lesson: collaboration – and collaborative restructuring in particular – takes time even under the best of circumstances. Our teams spent five months in an exploration phase to determine if it made sense to move forward with any kind of collaboration – the options ranged from partnering on some discrete projects to a full-scale merger. Both organizations needed time to get to know each other better; to understand each other’s history, missions, key driving forces, memberships; to hear from our members on the issue; and to engage in the proper due diligence to analyze each other’s finances and operations.

After the group concluded that a merger was the right option, we spent three more months negotiating all the details – and this was really the true test of our collaborative spirit. How could FPN expand its operations to provide a higher level of programs and services in South Florida? How would we deal with each organization’s different membership dues structures? How could we do all of this and ensure that we generated enough new financial resources to continue providing the same level of services – or hopefully even more services – to our valued members in all other parts of the state?

These questions – and many others – didn’t always have easy answers. Change is never easy. But I firmly believe we did the best we could do to ensure Florida has the type of association that is needed today to provide the strongest possible voice for Florida philanthropy and to be as effective as possible in helping grantmakers have a greater impact for the state’s communities and people.

I’d like to thank everyone who played a part in helping us reach a successful outcome with the merger process. The boards of both organizations deserve a great deal of credit for demonstrating the willingness and fortitude to explore new ways of doing our work. In particular, I’d like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the members of FPN’s and DFSF’s merger teams, who committed themselves for eight months to lead us through this important effort for our field and our state: Mark Brewer, President & CEO, Community Foundation of Central Florida; Geula Ferguson, Interim Executive Director, Donors Forum of South Florida (and now Interim Director, South Florida Office for FPN); Jane Gilbert, Community Affairs Officer-South Florida, Wells Fargo; Steven Marcus, President & CEO, Health Foundation of South Florida; Miguel Milanes, Regional Vice President, Miami-Dade, Allegany Franciscan Ministries; and Susan Towler, Vice President, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida Foundation.

To learn more, you can read the press release and FAQ sheet (PDF) about the merger.

– David Biemesderfer, President & CEO, Florida Philanthropic Network

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