October 7, 2018; VTDigger

Two nonprofits that work to support Vermont’s charitable organizations have merged to form a single statewide organization with a main office in Marlboro (in southeastern Vermont) and a branch office in Burlington (in northwestern Vermont), reports Anne Wallace Allen for VTDigger. The merger, which was completed October 1st, joins Common Good Vermont and Marlboro College’s Center for New Leadership. The new organization, named Common Good Vermont at the Center for New Leadership, employs five and is headed by Kate McGowan.

According to Lauren-Glenn Davitian, founder of Common Good Vermont, the two organizations have been working together for a decade, which made putting the together the merger easier. “Marlboro took the lead in training and education, and Common Good Vermont took the lead in serving as the resource hub, and also as the sector’s advocate,” says Kate Jellema, co-founder of Center for New Leadership.

“We have collaborated very closely on some major projects. We’ve been partners and in constant communication and eventually we got to the point where it just made sense to consider working together under one roof, so the coordination would be more seamless,” Jellema adds.

Grants from the AD Henderson Foundation and the Vermont Community Foundation provided financial backing for the merger process. Last year, in an NPQ article on the merger of two nonprofit support groups in Minnesota, Ruth McCambridge noted that, “support group infrastructure varies from city to city and state to state, but good local clusters of such groups are worth their weight in gold. Unfortunately, funders often neglect them.” Here, it is nice to see two foundations step up to reinforce the state’s nonprofit sector infrastructure.

One notable feature of the merger is that the new executive director comes from neither of the merging organizations. Instead, McGowan previously directed the United Way of Addison County, based in Middlebury, about 35 miles south of Burlington.

A 2011 report from the Vermont Community Foundation found that the state had 4,028 nonprofit organizations with $4.1 billion in revenue. Even if colleges, universities, and churches were subtracted out from those numbers, the same study found that still left 3,626 organizations with $2.5 billion in revenue. While a few nonprofits are large, most Vermont nonprofits are of modest size. Davitian estimates that 85 percent of Vermont nonprofits have budgets of $500,000 or less. Common Good Vermont also estimates that the number of nonprofits in the state has continued to grow, and puts the current number at 6,000.

With the merger, “you’ll see a one-stop shop,” Davitian says. Davitian also points out that in her role of advising Vermont nonprofits over the years, she had often counseled merger. Ultimately, Davitian says, she and Jellema decided it would be best if they followed their own advice.

“Merging is one of those things organizations can think about to a serve that goal,” Davitian observes. “We thought we better walk the talk.” With the merger, both Jellema and Davitian will be stepping back from their roles, adds Jellema.

For her part, McGowan says, “By consolidating, we will be able to serve the mission-driven sector throughout Vermont and provide a range of capacity-building training programs, from small, bite-sized webinars all the way to multi-month certificate programs. This range will allow an entry point for every budget and allow organizations and their valued staff to continue to grow and deepen their learning over time.”—Steve Dubb