different coloured paints mixing together

When (not) to merge a charity

By Iona Joy 31 August 2018

Earlier this year I led NPC’s research into charity mergers. We found that there was a lot of scope for mergers to improve services for, and the experiences of, beneficiaries. Despite this, mergers don’t happen that regularly. Our research suggested that the sector is too hung up on big formal, legal, mergers which dissuades them from exploring the spectrum of opportunities to be better, pool resources, and cut costs by collaborating.

An accusation levelled against us, as advocates of mergers, is that we think of them as a panacea. We are often characterised as thinking mergers solve every problem and virtually every charity that is even slightly similar should merge. Not true.

When looking over research from Firetail, which included a list of suggested mergers, one that stood out as likely to be ineffective and is a great example of this difference between ‘big-M’ merger and the range of options we have identified.

Macmillan Cancer Support & Marie Curie

NPC has researched issues to do with end of life, terminal illness and cancer for many years. Not once have we regarded Macmillan Cancer Support and Marie Curie as a suitable merger match. Here is why:

The people they aim to serve are not the same. They do not have the same needs.

There may be an overlapping subset, but Macmillan is focused on the 2.5 million people living with cancer, Marie Curie is focused on anyone with a terminal diagnosis of cancer or otherwise facing the end of  their life.

Macmillan Cancer Support

We want to reach and improve the lives of everyone living with cancer and to inspire millions of others to do the same.

Increasingly cancer is a chronic condition, which responds increasingly well to new treatments. Macmillan’s audience will, for the most part, be living life; ‘jobs, family, money, relationships, holidays, retirement’ while living with a diagnosis, active treatment, or post-treatment recovery. Out of nine outcomes identified by people living with cancer, only one related to dying well.

The people supported include people who are leading near-normal lives and feel well. Although Macmillan does also support people throughout their journey to the end of life, the end is only part of what it offers. Its main focus is getting cancer treatment and care right ,and supporting people to live a good life with cancer. Cancer is its only focus.

Marie Curie

We give care and support to people living with any terminal illness and their families, bringing light in the darkest hours.

Marie Curie helps anyone with a terminal diagnosis, providing intensive nursing and hospices to care for people who are very sick. It is not restricted to cancer.

While there may be plenty of living to be had during this phase, the charity’s language conveys themes relating to supporting people in dark times, and the intensity of care required for the final end-of-life phase.

To NPC, the two missions and beneficiary groups are distinct, and the notion they could come together does not resonate. Its obvious they should work together closely for the benefit of their overlapping interest groups, and our work suggests some ways they could collaborate and even pool resources in other areas like fundraising and marketing, but a full merger? We don’t see the strategic benefit.

Read our research, ‘Lets Talk Mission and Merger’ and then join the conversation on Twitter.