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Sunday, 27 September 2015 19:00

Merger positions GR nonprofit to better serve children, teens

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GRAND RAPIDS — The merger of local nonprofits Camp Fire West Michigan and Kent Regional 4C provides a strategic opportunity for both organizations, one not necessarily driven by finances.

The nonprofits, which are in their first year operating as a single organization, remain optimistic that the deal will enhance their service offerings and create a more compelling message for the public.

“The bottom line for nonprofits is that you are either going to survive or you’re not,” said Gayle Orange, executive director of what is now known as Camp Fire West Michigan 4C. “That would have been true for Camp Fire and (Kent Regional 4C), as well. We were thriving, but you’re always facing the challenge of how are you going to stay in business. We decided that by coming together, we could have a more compelling message — that connectedness from birth through high school.”

Through the merger, Camp Fire West Michigan 4C now provides a wide spectrum of training and direct support services that cater to infants all the way through high school-aged children, all under one banner.

Camp Fire West Michigan brought to the merger its 100-year history of working with youths and teens throughout the Grand Rapids area. The organization paired kids from 11 different Grand Rapids elementary and junior high schools with adults to help them with everything from academics to teaching them about health, wellness and how to be active.

On the other hand, Kent Regional 4C had existed on its own for 40 years, providing more than 2,000 child care and youth development professionals with necessary training and resources.

While the two organizations seemed like a natural fit together, the courtship process played out over the course of nearly two years. Before Dec. 31, 2014, the date the merger became effective, the two groups dedicated about a year and a half to reviewing finances, legal implications, citing deal breakers, comparing cultures and more.

The two sides also relied on Terry Horton of Grand Valley State University’s Johnson Center for Philanthropy, who facilitated joint board meetings and provided general advisement.

“Our boards did wonderful due diligence,” Orange said. “They looked at what were the liabilities and our options. It took a lot of work to bring it to a vote.”

Now, coming up on a year after the merger, Orange said the organization continues to push through the integration of the two nonprofits, a process that has gone smoothly to date.

“I think that the reason our coming together has probably been a lot smoother than some mergers is that we had staff from both organizations that have a desire to work and be successful,” Orange said. “The original Camp Fire staff and the original 4C staff have developed a great understanding of what we’re trying to do.”

While the merger wasn’t financially driven, such a partnership does offer some perks in terms of budget.

“There is some economy of scale,” Orange said. “For instance, you don’t need two CEOs or directors of finance. There was some savings there — although, I will say, folks did not lose their jobs other than those two positions.”

Kent Regional 4C Executive Director Deb VanderMolen retired following the merger, while Kent Regional 4C’s director of finance was shuffled to cover needs in human resources.

Additionally, the newly merged nonprofit provided board members from both organizations the opportunity to remain involved after the deal.

With the in-house shuffling, Orange said not a lot has changed with the current programs, but the organization is starting to make a push to publicly highlight the benefits of the merger.

“Right now, those that are in our school-aged programs probably haven’t noticed any change — maybe just the name change,” Orange said. “Also, I would say the same for our child care providers. Probably for them, it’s business as usual. Folks will begin to see the benefits of the merger. We’re working on exposing to more people and families, showing them all the things that are available for children from (birth) to school age.”

Ellen Carpenter, the vice president of marketing and communications for Heart of West Michigan United Way, called the two separate nonprofits both “effective, key organizations in the community that serve youth.”

Heart of West Michigan United Way funded Camp Fire West Michigan and Kent Regional 4C. The money budgeted to the organizations will still be given out until June 2016, when new granting decisions will be made.

“Both organizations were led by two very experienced leaders,” Carpenter said. “I think that really showed. (VanderMolen) retired and Gayle Orange moved in. They took a really complicated process and did it really well.

“All of those things, I think it shows nonprofits in a good light — that they’re managed well and it also shows their ability to do that kind of smooth transition and focused on being efficient.”

Read 1059 times Last modified on Monday, 12 October 2015 12:44
Jayson Bussa

Staff writer/Web editor

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