Max Pixel. Public domain.

July 31, 2017; Corvallis Gazette-Times

This may be one of the most unusual approaches to a nonprofit consolidation we have ever seen. In Oregon, two United Way agencies serving two very different counties announced that they both had hired Blake Pang as CEO, though they intend to remain separate for at least two years. Each will have its own staff and board. After the two years, the two will take up the question of a potential partnership. The memo of understanding (MOU) they have devised calls for Pang to investigate how the two groups might work more efficiently together.

This is clearly a challenging road for the two groups, requiring an extraordinary degree of emotional intelligence from the boards and staffs of two organizations that reputedly have very different political bases and cultures. The Corvallis Gazette-Times of Oregon reports that

The timing was right for the two organizations to consider at least some consolidation: The United Way of Benton and Lincoln Counties parted ways with its executive director, Jennifer Moore, earlier this year. And the executive director of the United Way of Linn County, Greg Roe, is resigning his post to go to work for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Rogue Valley; his wife, Laurie, has taken a post with Umpqua Community College. So it made sense for the two boards to try an experiment with the leadership of the organizations.

The three-county area that the two United Way organizations cover is the same area covered by the InterCommunity Health Network coordinated care organization, which provides Oregon Health Plan (Medicaid) services for the region. So there’s plenty of common ground to explore there.

Economically, the areas covered by the two United Ways have some important things in common: Workers frequently cross county lines in search of employment. Linn County and Benton County also face some of the same social service issues; a combined United Way approach to work with some of those could yield dividends.

This experiment is, at the very least, a bold move that’s worth following. We hope someone will be engaged to document the experience, helping the rest of us understand whether and how it works—and what exactly “working” means in this case.—Ruth McCambridge