Building From a Merger That Didn’t Happen

The following post is jointly authored by Mark Tercek, President & CEO of The Nature Conservancy and Brett Jenks, President & CEO of Rare.

Last fall, we were pleased to announce that The Nature Conservancy and Rare planned to merge. However, after a thorough analysis by our teams, we announced earlier this year that we have decided not to merge.

The decision wasn’t easy, but our rationale was clear: The fundamental premise of the merger was our belief that we could get more done for conservation. We still believe that. We concluded that we can still achieve greater results for conservation as highly aligned but independent partners.

It initially seemed to us that both organizations would benefit from a merger. Rare’s experience in catalyzing behavior change around the world would complement the Conservancy’s applied conservation science, on-the-ground expertise and relationships with key government and private sector leaders around the world.

Together, we could scale up Rare’s ground-breaking Pride campaigns, the organization’s signature method of inspiring local people to adopt conservation solutions and empower them to make those solutions their own. And Rare’s work with partners to restore near-shore fisheries would become a great alliance with the Conservancy’s ambitious global fisheries strategy and other ocean conservation efforts.

What’s more, our cultures—both centered on innovation, agility, and measurable results—are a great fit. A experienced organization like the Conservancy can no doubt learn a thing or two from a small, nimble and entrepreneurial organization like Rare. At the same time, the Conservancy’s global infrastructure would likely accelerate Rare’s high-growth trajectory. The Conservancy’s culture of autonomous yet carefully aligned programs would ensure that Rare retained its identity, autonomy and independence.

Of course, many cautioned us that mergers are hard. They often don’t work. We were fully aware of the difficult road ahead, but we believed the benefits could prove so great that we would be remiss not to explore the opportunity.

Others say we erred in announcing our intentions too early. Yet only so much can be explored in advance, and we wanted the merger evaluation process to be open and transparent. A thorough review would require the involvement of many people, so better to tell our staff, partners and donors exactly what we were intending to do.

The merger evaluation process resulted in a tremendous amount of learning, not only about each other but also about our own organizations. We came to better understand what makes each of our organizations great (of course we’re biased here, and there is always room for improvement). We determined that we could achieve much of the same increased mission impact through partnership, without running the inherent risk of compromising our unique ways of doing business.

The process also brought together leadership and staff from across Rare and the Conservancy. As a result, our teams have gotten to know each other better, built more trust and respect and developed new ideas for working together.

While certainly this experience did not come without some cost, we feel it was worth bearing, no matter the outcome. Good things rarely come without challenge or risk, and we will be better partners now for trying. So we hope our decision not to merge will not discourage other nonprofits from considering similar opportunities. In the nonprofit space, we should continuously ask ourselves how we can better collaborate with others in pursuit of our mission.

[Image: Aerial view of the Rock Islands and coral seascape at the Republic of Palau. Image Source: © Ian Shive.]

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