Implementation was the focus throughout 2011. Knowing the technical challenge of merging the financial systems, technologies, and human resources policies of four organizations would demand intense attention on a daily basis, a consultant was hired to help manage this transition. This took some of the load off the executives and also brought third-party objectivity to the task of determining which systems and practices should be carried over into the new organization. The group took cultural integration equally seriously, understanding that the relational aspects of merger can often “make or break” its implementation. This was addressed with the help of a cultural anthropologist who engaged the staff and boards of each organization in assessing their current cultures and sharing the results at an all-staff retreat. This experience stands out in the minds of each of the interviewees both for what it did to encourage recognition and respect of the unique cultures of each partner organization, and for helping all staff and board members to feel heard as part of the merger process.
Each of Colorado AIDS Project’s four regional service organizations serve more than 3,300 HIV-positive Coloradans annually, plus an additional 30,000 people through education and prevention programs.
- Denver CAP serves the five-county Denver metro area.
- NCAP covers a mostly rural, eight-county service area.
- S-CAP serves a 25-county region covering 43,000 square miles.
- WestCAP provides services to 22 counties west of the Rockies.
The client demographics and characteristics of each community are addressed by programming tailored to meet their unique needs.
Since the strategic restructuring negotiations had begun, all of the executive directors had said they were not interested in leading the new organization. Instead, their preference was to remain with their respective regional offices in some other capacity. The fact that they were not competing for the chief executive position helped the negotiations go smoothly, but the fact remained that a leader would eventually need to be selected. The group decided to appoint an interim executive director to see the new organization through the merger transition, then hire a CEO after the initial integration was complete.
Ruth Pederson took on the interim position in the fall of 2011. She had been director of the Denver CAP, having assumed that post believing that it would be her last executive position before retiring. Thus, she hardly expected to be offered, let alone to accept, the responsibility of being interim executive director of the new organization. But she took on the challenge knowing she had the confidence of her colleagues and a background in finance and administration that made her well suited to navigate the technical aspects of the integration.
The merger was officially put into effect October 2011, and the new organization is, at the time of this writing, in the process of interviewing candidates for the CEO position. Ruth Pederson is looking forward to her deferred retirement, and the other former executives of the regional CAPs continue to serve as regional directors.
The Denver CAP was chosen as the surviving corporate entity for the merged organization because of its deep administrative capacity, and the fact that it was already managing joint contracts for the regional CAPs. However, some tension remains around whether a centralized organization can continue to maintain strong regional representation and meet the needs of these diverse communities. Efforts have been made to structurally address this concern through the creation of regional advisory councils, which (in the absence of individual boards) will allow for continued local stakeholder involvement.
Maintaining Regional Diversity
Each of the CAPs has served their local community for more than 20 years. This deep and longstanding regional commitment made it difficult to consider adopting a centralized statewide structure.
To maintain strong local ties, the new organization created regional advisory councils. These councils enable past board members and other stakeholders to remain involved at the community level through fundraising and friendraising activities.
Each region continues to provide services under its own place-based name and exercises significant autonomy in programmatic decision-making. In time, Colorado AIDS Project will begin to look at how aligning its programs can leverage best practices and enhance client services across its service area.
The new organization brings together urban and rural services, but with a common commitment.
In 2012, the fifth and final year of this initiative, the Colorado AIDS Project is deeply engaged in operational integration activities and in the process of recruiting for a new CEO. The funders are developing a retrospective report on the results of this work, and will be closing out the grant by year’s end.