Consolidation in National Networks Takes Heat

In the past week, news articles about two major national networks have raised the question of whether consolidation among their respective councils and chapters has done more damage than good. The concerns are real, but there’s also always more to the story.

In the past week, news articles about Girl Scouts USA and the American Red Cross have reported on recent criticism of these major national networks, raising the question of whether consolidation among their respective councils and chapters has done more damage than good.

On August 17, The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported on Girl Scouts USA’s search for a new CEO  in the context of organizational challenges that include protracted fallout from its consolidation of regional councils between 2007 and 2013 and the sell-off of several camp properties. Interviewing board president Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, the article notes that a recent GSUSA social media solicitation of member feedback on the question “What would you do if you were the CEO of Girl Scouts?” included responses advocating “reversing the consolidation of councils.”

Two days earlier, The Nonprofit Quarterly ran a news brief on the American Red Cross’ response to recent floods in Louisiana  as being a test of whether the organization will be able to effectively coordinate and mobilize volunteers and resources among what are now fewer, more geographically-dispersed chapters working on the ground. The article references an earlier article from January detailing some of the concerns about ARC’s “consolidation strategy” that has resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number of local chapters since the mid-2000s.

Truly, consolidation is not always the answer, and when it is pursued it must — like any major change — be approached with great care . At the same time, the challenges these two organizations face extend far beyond the structural. Both are complex organizations with numerous intersecting issues at play, not the least of which are cultural (ranging from interpersonal conflict to differing views of who the organization is and what it stands for) and strategic (how to remain relevant and responsive in a rapidly changing world).

Join us in the coming weeks as we launch a new series of articles exploring some of these very issues. “Federated Nonprofits: Combining Local Commitment with National Strength” will look specifically at large nonprofits with national networks and how they sometimes struggle with, sometimes succeed in, leveraging structure, culture, and strategy to achieve their missions.

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