CEE-NEC merger: Guided by best practices and transparent planning

Late last year, CEE and the Neighborhood Energy Connection announced plans to merge in 2017. After considering a merger for quite a while, boards and key staff of both organizations recognized that our efforts could be strengthened by combining forces behind a shared mission. In coming together, we believe we'll increase our capacity to build more transformational strategies and maximize our opportunities to better serve our community.
In a 2012 study completed by Wilder Research in St. Paul, published by MAP for Nonprofits in Minneapolis, and documented at Stanford Social Innovation Review, researchers identified several secrets to merger success including:
  • The power of committed staff leadership (check!
  • Engagement of both boards (got it!)
  • Shared organizational histories (done!)
  • Robust internal communications (this one’s ongoing…)
Through rigorous due diligence and following promising practices like these, we’ve continued moving steadily ahead toward an official, legal merger slated for late spring. Amid dozens of small group planning and implementation meetings, a few weeks ago we gathered the full staffs of both offices for a jam-packed day to learn and talk about our shared histories, while also considering our best path forward together.
Our retreat started with a historical overview from CEE’s president Chris Duffrin, who is also the former executive director of the NEC. Duffrin started with the origin story of each nonprofit — CEE as the energy office at the City of Minneapolis in 1979, and the NEC as a consortium created by St. Paul’s district councils in 1985 — and explained how the two companies’ histories started overlapping and intersecting in the 1980s, leading to multiple shared efforts and approaches over the course of the next several decades. Duffrin’s look into the past was followed by staff presentations on the present work of both organizations. 
Throughout the course of the day, staff explored the drivers behind the merger. We brainstormed and shared thoughts on how tighter collaboration can strengthen our already strong programs, services, and operations, and also considered challenges we may need to address as we go. Around the room, staffers emphasized the high value of open communications and an ongoing need to seek synergies among departments and locations. (Post-merger, we’ll continue to have very active offices in both Minneapolis and St. Paul). Participants also underscored the importance of leveraging our increased brainpower to reach further and innovate more creatively.
Importantly, Duffrin also updated the room and fielded questions about our integration progress so far, including operational details tied to staffing, benefits, transparent communications, and ongoing planning and implementation. At several points, staff were invited to ask any and all questions that came to mind. And staff leaders were honest: we’re learning as we go and we won’t necessarily know every answer until we are further down the line — but all questions have value because they may daylight concerns worth addressing.
Finally, we shared analysis related to staff feedback through an organizational cultural assessment, facilitated for CEE and the NEC by Michael Anderson of la Piana Consulting, which specializes in helping nonprofits to operate effectively. Anderson walked us through staff assessments of our individual organizational cultures, and program leaders provided additional insights into potential implications for the teams most impacted by our merger. Happily, the assessment revealed that our organizations share a ton of cultural alignment, with a heavy, shared emphasis on getting work done cooperatively and collaboratively. 
As noted above, boards of directors play a crucial role in merger success, and the full course of our merger has benefited from the deep engagement and unanimous agreement of both organizations’ boards. As board members Amir Nadav and Julia Donaldson emphasized on retreat day, the union of our organizations is “a natural fit,” given our longstanding overlap in missions, mindset, and relationships. And, although it’s easy to dismiss a merger as a simple route to efficiency and cost containment, that’s too limiting for us — from the get-go, our boards’ main goal has been to build on the best of both to make a greater impact. 
For decades, CEE has built its reputation on offering informed solutions based on the best available data. This merger is no different — in fact, it may well be the best illustration of our longtime approach in action. With a lasting focus on best practices and the deep engagement of our full team, we seem to be well prepped (and well on our way) toward a smooth and highly effective union.
With a merger approaching, staff from NEC and CEE gathered for a jam-packed day to learn and talk about our shared histories, while considering our best path forward together.