In Pursuit of Union: The First Collaborative Merger Effort of Housing Organizations in Western New York

Alexander von Hoffman

Between 2010 and 2013 the leaders of five nonprofit housing organizations located in western New York State met together to form an alliance of their organizations.  All of the organizations belonged to the network of NeighborWorks America, a congressionally chartered nonprofit corporation that provides grants, technical assistance, training, and organizational assessment to local groups across the United States that carry out housing and community development programs to improve the neighborhoods and lives of low-income people.

The leaders of the five organizations hoped that by joining forces their organizations would expand their lines of business, increase their capacity, and become more efficient. At first, they were not clear about what form the alliance would take but eventually they conceived of it as an association of equals in which their organizations would become subsidiary divisions under one central organization After two and a half years of discussing and planning what they called a collaborative merger, the groups were just about to create the new entity when the effort came to an abrupt halt.  Three of the groups would later successfully merge into a new organization.

The following case study traces the story of the original effort in western New York to understand what it accomplished and why its members were unable to join together. The study aims to inform leaders in the nonprofit housing field – particularly members of the NeighborWorks network – about ways to approach the task of bringing different organizations together in joint ventures.