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Why Emotion Can Derail a Nonprofit Merger

Sarah Steimer

For nonprofit mergers to succeed, each party must strip away old loyalties and favor shared vision over sentimentality

John Pfeiffer and Andrea Ziel are describing the still-fresh merger of their respective nonprofits. Ziel, director of Skills for Good, starts to explain her organization’s name change. She pauses for a moment, apologizing for being a bit tired.

“I have chocolate!” Pfeiffer exclaims, fishing through his desk drawer. “I have the chocolate you gave me for Christmas.”

He proffers a few bars for Ziel to choose from, along with a couple of napkins. The generous give and take between the two is symbolic. On Jan. 1, Ziel’s organization, previously known as WomenOnCall, merged with Chicago Cares, where Pfeiffer serves as chief operating offIcer. From their telling and their effortless interaction—passing questions back and forth or reinforcing the other’s point—the tie-up has been fairly seamless. Their professional and interpersonal ease comes from months of careful planning.

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Sarah Steimer is a staff writer for the AMA's magazines and e-newsletters. She may be reached at ssteimer@ama.org or on Twitter at @sarah_steimer.