Ready! Set! Go! So you have considered your goals, options, created a plan to involve your team and your board in the discussion, you understand corporate models and have dug deeply into the need to control… what is next? In short you are ready to affiliate! So we could approach this positively—but chose to be extremely candid and real—this process will test you in ways that you never expected.

There are many things to consider as you begin live discussions, but here is the top 11 listing of affiliation issues that derail affiliations.

  1. Trust. There is always, always the component of answering a simple question: Can I trust the people on the other side? Are they authentic in what they say? Is there anything ethically or based upon my research that is giving me pause? Do I sense a freedom in their team to have important and transparent discussions? Can I have truly candid discussions with our potential partner?
  2. Pride. We all are quite vested in our non-profit organizations and think of ourselves very highly at times. An affiliate process will cause others to look at our organization deeply and there can and will be some eye-opening observations. Are you ready to simply listen and consider new views of your organization? Can you learn from this?
  3. Control. Any new partnership or affiliate involves a loss of some control or at least a sharing of control. Are you willing to do this? Is your organization ready to do this?
  4. Cultural Alignment. Are our approaches, mission, outlook and business models aligned? Are there significant gaps between how we operate and how we perceive the operations of our potential partners? How can we learn if we are truly culturally aligned?
  5. Trajectory. The due diligence process is always looking backward—it’s designed to uncover any unknown or unplanned liabilities or situations which could adversely impact an organization. As important, is the question of where is my partner going or more specifically the organizational trajectory? Are there absolute, strong and thoughtful plans for the future? Is their vision compelling? Is their vision consistent with ours? Is there a strong fit?
  6. Business Metrics. What are the key drivers of their ministry? Are the trends positive? We have continued to find that occupancy or program utilization that is and/or has been declining is a solid indicator that there are deeper issues of culture, customer experience, team dynamics, bad product or other key considerations that need to be addressed. Regardless of a current cash position, declining occupancy and program utilization will drain resources over the long term.
  7. Leadership. What is the plan for integrating talent and positions? What skills will be needed moving ahead? Are there new opportunities to create great career ladders which just weren’t available before? Who will be leading this effort?
  8. Name/Branding. Deal with this one. Is there a need or desire to re-brand OR do we see great value in retaining existing names/market positioning?
  9. The NaySayer. It seems as if this role can be filled by any willing team member—sometimes a long term leader, sometimes a board member—but as a leader this voice will rise up and be unavoidable as you work to affiliate. What is your plan to help this person along? What can you learn from this voice?
  10. Funding. How is the cost of the process being funded and how will important decisions regarding new studies, attorney fees, filing fees be funded by the parties? Will they be split 50/50? Who is responsible for the accounting?
  11. Time/Energy. These processes take a lot of time and commitment from all parties. Do we have a plan to be sure we don’t burn out key team members in the process? Does the overall process have some times of fun and refreshment?

This is by no mean an exhaustive list, but it is a good list of things to really look for. Almost always a successful affiliation works through these issues over time while an unsuccessful one allows these issues to linger and never quite get resolved. Left unattended, they grow and grow in the heart and minds of all of us. Many times the resolution is simply to say NO to the affiliation and move on.

So, no need to be discouraged. None of these items are a death sentence to a great relationship. Keeping your eyes on the work done in advance (Affiliation Readiness) and remembering that we truly do need each other as the world continues to become more and more complex will carry the day!