Ep 40: There Has to be Trust

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Season 3, Episode 8

The Relationship:

Holly Ivel

Holly Ivel was the Director of Data Services at GuideStar, an online service that provided financial information on millions of U.S. nonprofits and certified organizations when they reached certain levels of transparency. Holly is now the Senior Director of Business Development at Candid, the organization created in early 2019 when GuideStar merged with Foundation Center, which maintained a comprehensive database on global grants and grantmakers and provided print and online resources, conducted research on philanthropic trends, and offered educational and training services for grant-seekers.

Gabe Cohen

Gabe Cohen was the Senior Director of Marketing and Communications also at GuideStar. Gabe holds the same title at Candid, which brings together GuideStar and Foundation Center’s existing services and combined 88 years of experience to provide data-driven resources to the nonprofit sector. 

The Conversation:

There are over 1.5 million nonprofits registered in the United States, it’s not surprising that many of them do similar work. There has been a general conversation within the nonprofit sector pushing for more collaboration and partnership between organizations, but what about taking that a step further? GuideStar and Foundation Center were two fairly similar organizations that acted as data repositories within the sector. In early 2019, the two organizations took the plunge and entered into a merger over a decade in the making. The new joint organization is called Candid. Holly Ivel, originally from GuideStar, and Gabe Cohen, originally from Foundation Center, talk about the ups and downs of merging and what that process has looked like to them.

A driving question when considering a organizational merger is: “Is there something we could do better for the sector if we consolidate?” For GuideStar and Foundation Center, this was a discussion that took place over more than ten years, during which time they had consultants come in and determine whether it made sense and whether it was the right time.

Merging is not a simple or easy process. It is a lot of work with a a lot of ambiguity and it is also a very personal journey for everyone involved. There can be a desire to push forward and just be Candid and do the work they want to do, but before that can get done, there has to be a thoughtful and deliberate process of how to make that happen. And this goes down to the mundane and day-to-day level of just figuring out who does what, how will your work change, and consolidating terminology so that everyone is speaking the same language.

Throughout their conversation Gabe and Holly emphasize both the excitement and anxiety that comes with this process. On the one hand, their is great excitement for new possibilities that come with having the capacity of two organizations. Services you couldn’t offer before are now available. But on the other hand, it takes a lot of work and there is a lot of unknown and uncertainty that comes with it. It’s a huge exercise in patience, good humor, and especially trust. Although these two organizations had done work with each other before, that doesn’t necessarily mean there is an already-existing trust. Building that trust and those relationships between the employees is an important and involved process.

A conference event at the former Foundation Center

Topic Timestamps

Everything needs to come together

  • Entrance to Candid’s NYC office
    00:00 – Gabe Cohen talks about how the name “Candid” doesn’t say exactly what they do, but that’s okay because a name and a brand can be more than a literal definition of what they do.
  • 00:51 – Sandy introduces Candid as a merger of GuideStar and Foundation Center, talks about how much more good can be done when organizations partner together, and introduces Candid’s Holly Ivel and Gabe Cohen, both formerly from each of the former separate organizations.
  • 2:08 – “Can we grow our partnership in some direction or another?” Gabe talks about the process of coming to the conclusion of merging, timing, making small changes to make a merger easier, and gauging philanthropic support.
  • 4:52 – Holly talks about the mix of excitement, questions, and wondering that comes with the merger. There’s especially a sense of anticipation and the unknown with regards to what the other organization is like and how her work would change. Gabe reinforces that sense of ambiguity and the huge amount of work that goes into truly creating a united organization.
  • 8:44 – It’s not just an organization merger, it’s a very personal journey for everyone involved. There’s still a lot of work to do, many moving parts, and the collective need to re-evaluate every part of their day-to-day: everything needs to come together. It’s something that has been an exercise in patience.

A whole new set of possibilities

  • 11:19 – Gabe talks about a positive tension between wanting to move forward and wanting to be thoughtful and deliberate about how they’re doing that. Holly notes that when the sector talks about increasing partnerships and where do you go from there, there’s no simple checkbox list of questions that will tell you that this is a logical next step. The question to ask is “Is there something we could do better for the sector if we consolidate?”
  • 13:21 – Theoretically people believe that consolidation is a good thing but it takes a lot of work and is something organizations shouldn’t do lightly. But there can be an infatuation with your own organization as no one wants to see their baby disappear. But you have to break things down and look at them in a critical way in order to rebuild them.
  • 15:49 – It’s exciting as clarity begins to grow with regard to the ways that the two classic organizations are coming together. Holly gives the example of GuideStar’s compensation report—a 4700 page PDF—that is an amazing resource in not a very useful form. She is excited about a whole new set of possibilities for how that information can be used and redirected to serve more people.

Excitement, anxiety, and trust

  • 18:29 – Holly talks about the excitement of cross-pollination opportunities: for the first time, the people at GuideStar can think about whether there are needs that their constituents need that they’ve never been able to offer before (and vice versa for Foundation Center’s clients).
  • 20:47 – As amazing as it is, because both groups have similar sets of staff and activities,, there is a process of figuring out how to execute the hand-off and manage responsibilities.
  • 21:45 – Building trust with your colleagues is so important because you may not be entering the relationship with trust to begin with. Gabe talks about the process of building bridges between the GuideStar and Foundation Center employees
  • 23:11 – A common language barrier: there are two different set of terminology being used, so you may think you’re communicating when you’re not. Gabe offers the practical advice: create a “cheat sheet” with a break down of the terminology and jargon soup used by both organizations.
  • 25:12 – Holly talks about how she still has staff who have yet to physically sit and have a conversation with a member of the original Foundation Center team. There’s still a wide range of comfort and exposure to each other. It’s exciting and also a process of learning to trust and get to know each other.
  • 26:56 – As managers, there’s a tricky game of trying to figure out what is best for people to know and talk abut it on a regular basis, not in terms of keeping secrets but in terms of what is best way to deal with the unknown. 

Wrap up

  • 27:46 – Holly expresses how grateful she is that they’ve been on the journey together. Gabe shares the sentiment and talks about how great it’s been to have Holly and people like Holly to talk with through this process. The two wrap up the conversation.
  • 29:53 – Outro: figure out where your lettuce comes from, get a reusable water bottle, and like our Facebook page @philanthropyjournalfb.
An event at GrantSpace, a service offered by Foundation Center and now Candid for grantseekers

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Editor’s note: this article originally said that Gabe Cohen was originally from Foundation Center instead of GuideStar.

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