Leaders of the social service nonprofits go into further detail on merger talks.
Jewish Family Service of Metro Detroit (JFS), JVS Human Services and Kadima Mental Health Services announced on Thursday, Dec. 3 that they had formally voted to begin analyzing a potential merger into one single agency.
In a joint interview, the three agency heads said that a potential new organization would not stray too far from the current central mission statements of the agencies.
“If a new organization happens, it would be a similar mission statement to any one of ours,” Perry Ohren, CEO of JFS, told the JN. “Our mission is to help people within the Jewish community and the broader community with whatever help they might need. And that would be the mission of the new organization, to continue to do that.”
Paul Blatt, President and CEO of JVS Human Services, echoed those sentiments.
“One thing we recognized is that the three organizations’ missions aligned very well, which really helped us and guided us as we did our exploratory stage of this,” Blatt said.
This announcement was made following two years of informal discussions, facilitated by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit (JFMD), which is a partner organization to JVS and JFS.
Blatt said the agencies felt they had arrived at a point where it was appropriate to share the next phase with the communities.
According to Ohren, the evaluation process will be a “big project” that will include about 10 work groups, with each group focusing on different tasks, such as client records and fundraising. Other evaluation tasks include brainstorming what the possible new organization’s board of directors and organizational chart would look like.
“People on our staff will be working on this. We’ll be hiring some outside firms who might have some subject matter expertise, we’ll be working with a consultant, and our boards are going to be involved,” Ohren said.
Ohren said that the merger isn’t being explored as a money-saving initiative, but that staffing cuts and consolidations are still possible.
“In the process of doing it, sure it probably will save some money, and maybe we’ll have one less person over here or over there, but the intent is to put the best work the organizations do and the people who do that work together,” Ohren said. “The intention is social impact: can we serve people better?”
Matt Lester, the President of JFMD, said it makes good sense for agencies or service providers to look at the community and for ways to enhance service, and that Federation supports and will continue to support the talks over the course of the evaluation period.
“From my vantage point, I applaud the undertaking, particularly since it exemplifies a level of thoughtfulness and selflessness that you don’t always see in the non-profit world,” Lester said. “I think there’s a long way to go for them to determine if some form of collaboration, whatever that looks like, is prudent.”
“I think that because of the centrality of Federation and the resources of Federation, it’s only natural that we play a role,” Lester added. “But I would put it as a role of assisting them, ultimately the decision will be theirs.”
All three agency heads said that the pandemic had no bearing on the recent announcement, as merger talks were being held for some time.
Eric Adelman, CEO of Kadima, said that when they were ready to work with an outside facilitator, there was some thought of waiting until the pandemic was over to continue the discussions. Ultimately, the decision was made to continue the due diligence.
“There was a lot of momentum behind these discussions, and who knew how long the pandemic would last, so it was important to continue moving this conversation forward,” Adelman said.
Ohren added that the demand on all three of the services involved due to the pandemic has shown how impactful the organizations could be together.
To Ohren, whether a new organization ultimately ends up forming or not, these talks will be a step forward for the communities the three agencies assist.
“No matter what happens, the community and the people we serve will be better as a result of the process that we’re going through,” Ohren said. “We are looking deeply now at how the three of us work together and regardless of the end result, it’s going to be a better, more informed service for the people that come to us for help.”