Two Lancaster nonprofits consolidate, hope others will follow suit
The Lancaster Alliance and James Street Improvement District aren't just consolidating into one nonprofit: They're aiming to inspire.
"What we're hoping to do is to set a repeatable practice of organizations realizing that there's a real close mission" and capitalizing on that, said Bob Shoemaker, who led the Alliance and now serves as president and CEO of the new Lancaster City Alliance. His JSID counterpart, Marshall Snively, is LCA's executive vice president and chief operating officer.
That is not to say that LCA is urging indiscriminate merging. Fit and timing are essential, Shoemaker and Snively said, and it is possible to over-consolidate. Their two organizations first looked at the concept about five years ago and determined that the time was not right.
"We should be clear, too, that we were two organizations that were in very good standing financially and had healthy reserves," Snively said. "Because of the prudence of the boards, we realized that we could do much more together than separately, including fundraising."
Shoemaker and Snively described the Alliance and JSID as complementary, not competing, organizations. Both were involved in the city's economic development, some local companies had members on both boards of directors, and for the past few years both had been participating in regular quarterly meetings with the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County, EDC Finance Corp. and the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
"We thought it was necessary to tell the funders how we were prioritizing," Shoemaker said of the group. "We agreed to meet on a regular basis and share our priorities and then decide on a go-forward basis who was going to work on what so there wouldn't be duplication of effort."
Alliance and JSID priorities were pretty compatible, as it turned out. Eventually they resumed talks about consolidating, then started holding joint lunch sessions on Tuesdays.
"It's important that staff be involved and help set the right tone for the volunteers," Shoemaker said of the transition. Unlike the for-profit sector, he noted, where paychecks give people a reason to invest in the continuing health of the organization, nonprofits have volunteers with no vested interests other than the mission.
Between them, the organizations had more than three dozen members on their boards of directors — and when they put the idea of consolidation to a vote, after months of planning, the decision was unanimous. Lancaster County Community Foundation also saw wisdom in the move, coming up with a $20,000 grant for the transition.
"Partnerships of this nature increase service delivery, improve an organization's long-term financial stability through consolidation and increased operational efficiencies, and align efforts to enhance our Lancaster community," said Melody Keim, vice president of programs and initiatives at the LCCF.
The Alliance staff are giving up their rented quarters at 100 S. Queen St. and moving in with the JSID staff at 354 N. Prince St.
"Beyond the functional savings, here you have a seasoned planner with large-city experience in Marshall, and here you have somebody with a financial background who knows Lancaster County but hasn't worked in an urban setting in this type of environment absent the last three years in me," Shoemaker said. "You put us across the hall from each other instead of across town, and we see each other daily versus monthly, we think that good things are going to happen. The mayor's counting on it."
Beyond the simple benefits of consolidation, LCA is hoping for gains by adjusting its leadership structure. Acting on principles espoused by the book "Race for Relevance," by Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers, it is paring its governance board to nine members and putting the rest on seven executive leadership teams focused on subjects closely tied to LCA's vision, such as community safety, marketing and advocacy.
In announcing the plan, LCA addressed the question of whether having a smaller board is a threat to funding.
"Our direction is for a board seat and an executive leadership team appointment to be of par importance, and both worthy of funding support," the release said. Retaining and ultimately increasing funding is a priority, according to LCA; the projected first-year budget is $1.2 million and includes all staffers and services from both the Alliance and JSID.
The former board members themselves have been enthusiastic about the structural change, Shoemaker and Snively said.
"I do think you're going to see more and more of this type of thing happening," Snively said. "It makes sense for us."
News of the consolidation into The Lancaster City Alliance comes at a time when the city has good news to report.
“Since January, downtown and the Northwest has seen almost 40 new stores, restaurants, attractions open, expand or announce an opening,” said Marshall Snively, LCA executive vice president and chief operating officer. “All should be open by the end of the summer. We’ve had under 10 businesses close during that same period, but a net gain of 30 is fantastic.”
Snively also noted that the openings are on top of a continuing residential rebirth in the areas, particularly of market-rate apartments.
“I see no signs of slowing down,” Snively said.