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Bicycle riders and walkers on the trail along Dupont Road participate in the Trek the Trails opening event of the season in May. Fort Wayne Trails was formed from the merger of three trails organizations.

With charity for all

Inefficiency and duplication are unwelcome concepts in business and government. In the nonprofit sector, however, they sometimes are the rule. Two local foundations are asking nonprofit providers whether a merger might be a better way to satisfy their missions, while the Allen County Public Library urges them to at least consider collaborating.

Nearly 100 nonprofit leaders gathered last week to learn about two local mergers, while another group heard ideas on collaboration at a workshop offered by the library’s Paul Clarke Nonprofit Resource Center.

The panel discussion at the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne highlighted the merger of the Allen County Council on Aging with Aging & In-Home Services of Northeast Indiana, along with Fort Wayne Trails’ development from Aboite New Trails, the Greenway Consortium and Northwest Allen Trails.

Foellinger Foundation President Cheryl Taylor and David Bennett, executive director of the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne, penned an opinion article a year ago to start a discussion about mergers.

“In a world of limited resources for nonprofit organizations, charities owe it to the community to determine what structure works best to achieve its mission,” they wrote. “Boards of directors are responsible for determining the best way for a charity to serve its clients. Separate charity or program or a larger charity?”

F. John Rogers, a board member for Aging & In-Home Services, said the test is to consider the best way to fulfill an organization’s mission. Sometimes a merger is the most efficient approach and sometimes a strategic alliance can work, he said.

For the trails organizations, the greater goal of developing, promoting and supporting trails outweighed the individual interests of three distinct groups, said Jon Bom- berger of Fort Wayne Trails.

Turf issues can derail efforts to merge, the panelists noted. John Rogers, a Council on Aging board member, said he was involved with an agency about 30 years ago that considered combining efforts, but talks broke down when the executive directors clashed. One of the groups later dissolved.

“The board has the responsibility to drive the merger,” he said.

Efforts to combine organizations, unfortunately, don’t happen as frequently as efforts to begin new ones. Bennett said the Community Foundation had a request for money from a nonprofit start-up just as it was preparing last week’s merger discussion. Marilynn Fauth, coordinator of the Paul Clarke Center, hears so many pitches to start charities that she’s prepared a packet: “501(c)(3) … To Be or Not To Be???”

“Is there a nonprofit currently providing the same or similar services in your community?” it asks. “Where will you get the money to pay the bills? What makes you the best person to do this job?”

Fauth said the number of proposed charities spiked with the Great Recession, as people who lost jobs looked to create their own. In recent years, she’s seen increasing pitches for animal welfare groups – particularly horse-rescue groups – and “anything having to do with veterans.”

Fauth said the Paul Clarke Center is supporting collaboration among organizations already established.

“Collaborating doesn’t have to mean mixing money,” she said. “It can be the back-office stuff. How many organizations really need to have their own CFO? Why couldn’t they share?”

Fort Wayne alone has nearly 800 public charities. With limited funds and growing demands on volunteer time, mergers and collaborations can go a long way to serve more.