More Nonprofits Should Consider Mergers

InnVision and Habitat for Humanity Silicon Valley recently announced they are merging with similar organizations from other parts of the Bay Area. InnVision’s long-time CEO, Christine Burroughs, announced in a letter to local donors that they were merging with Shelter Network of San Mateo County, which would double the size of their organization. The organization will now be known as InnVision Shelter Network and it will have 200 employees, a sizable nonprofit serving homeless individuals and families.

Burroughs also announced her retirement and introduced Karae M. Lisle as the new CEO of the merged organization. Ms. Burroughs had returned to InnVision after her replacement failed to keep the organization on an even keel, but she has wanted to retire for some time. To her credit, instead of urging her Board to conduct another expensive search for a replacement CEO, she suggested they seek out a merger opportunity. Lisle, Shelter Network’s CEO, is well-respected in San Mateo County and her agency provides similar services to InnVision. The two Boards have been discussing and planning the merger for six months. 

At the same time, Habitat for Humanity Silicon Valley, founded in 1986, will be merging with Habitat for Humanity East Bay, which was founded in 1988. The merged organization will serve Santa Clara, Alameda and Contra Costa counties, and it will be the largest Habitat for Humanity affiliate in Northern California. Both organizations will retain their names, while their websites have been consolidated.

It is great to see nonprofits with similar missions merging to form stronger entities. Both had executives who were willing to look at the big picture, ensuring their respective nonprofits were able to continue serving the community. It makes sense for more nonprofits to seek opportunities to combine forces, especially when the CEO is leaving the organization.

Currently, I know of two other local nonprofits with long-time executive directors retiring. Unfortunately, rather than look at mergers as an option, these organizations are seeking to hire new executives. One is a small nonprofit with funding problems that could be solved if they were acquired by a larger nonprofit. However, either the CEO or Board, or both, refused to consider a merger when approached by another agency. Instead, they will probably hire someone who struggles to keep the place operating and it will most likely end up being acquired later—or close down. 

Bill Wilson Center has acquired four nonprofit agencies over the past several years: the Centre for Living with Dying, Contact Cares, Future Families, and Chat4Teens. The mergers strengthened our Board with new members and we saved a couple of agencies on the verge of financial collapse.

Nonprofit organization executives and Boards need to leave their egos at the door when looking at the option of hiring a new CEO or seeking out a merger opportunity. I have no plans to leave Bill Wilson Center in the near future, but when I do, I will suggest to the Board that they look for an organization with a similar mission, and a stellar CEO at the helm, to combine forces. The best CEOs are usually happily working for their organizations. Instead of trying to recruit them away, how about asking them to consider a merger? I know we are always looking at opportunities to strengthen Bill Wilson Center.

Sparky Harlan, Executive Director/CEO at Bill Wilson Center, is a nationally recognized advocate for youth in foster care and in the juvenile justice system, as well as homeless and runaway youth.

Sparky Harlan, Executive Director/CEO at Bill Wilson Center, is a nationally recognized advocate for youth in foster care and in the juvenile justice system, as well as homeless and runaway youth.


  1. Thank you for this excellent article. We are very excited to announce the merger of InnVision and Shelter Network, bringing together decades of leadership in serving homeless families and adults. With the community’s support, InnVision Shelter Network (IVSN) is poised to become one of the most effective and efficient organizations serving the homeless in Northern California – empowering thousands of people to return to permanent housing and self-sufficiency, and strengthening the overall health of our community. Thank you, Sparky, for helping spread the word! We are so grateful for your partnership.

    Karae Lisle
    CEO, InnVision Shelter Network

  2. No offense, but why does a merger have to wait until a CEO retires?  Your post seems too CEO-centric to me.  Certainly there is no issue of redundancy with the top job when one CEO is leaving, but what about the other jobs?  Don’t those folks deserve some consideration too?

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