A strategic merger might be the solution your beneficiaries need - and it neednít be a long and complex process, says Sarah Lindsell, CEO of The Brain Tumour Charity
A dark and murky November Monday morning in 2012. Itís our regular weekly team meeting, and I share the news that the previous Friday, we formally merged with two competitor charities - and that from that day forward, together we would have a bigger impact for those affected by the devastating disease of a brain tumour.
I explained that, after intense negotiations lasting three months, the full merger was complete. This was the first step in announcing it. I reassured the team that this was not about rationalisation; there would be no redundancies. Our sole purpose was to find a cure and better treatments, and this would be better achieved together.
I suggested we take a ten-minute break to gather our thoughts and then talk through the practicalities. Who would have what role? What would we be called? What was our new logo? What about the websites? A thousand questions immediately came to mind.
During the break, one of our team whose son had died from a brain tumour dashed out. When we re-grouped and before we began talking again, she asked if she could say something. She produced two bottles of champagne and popped the corks. ďAs the mother of a child who lost his life to a brain tumour, this is the best news I could hear. Now we can really change the future.Ē
Currently, survival rates for brain tumours remain among the poorest of all cancers, and weíve seen insufficient improvement over the past few decades. We know that, as charities and patient groups, we must take some responsibility for the inadequate speed of progress. We have been disparate, too busy competing with each other, rather than focusing on the end goal. For us, it was this realisation that ultimately led to us merging with not one, but two, other charities in our field.
Keeping beneficiaries at our heart and in our minds meant that the practicalities were just that - and they were addressed systematically and purposefully.
We made a few mistakes along the way - for example, we initially appointed an over-large team of trustees as we were trying to ensure each of the three charities was equally represented, when we should simply have put together a board from the outset that met the needs of the new organisation. But our mistakes were minor and surmountable, and overall we moved at a fast pace - because we know a brain tumour cure canít wait.
In March 2013, The Brain Tumour Charity (formerly the Samantha Dickson Brain Tumour Trust), completed its merger to become the UKís largest dedicated brain tumour charity. Two-and-a-half years later, having planned to double our income in five years so that we could invest in more promising research and grow our reach, we have accomplished this - and more - in half the time. Today, we are the largest brain tumour charity in the world. The team member who bought the champagne was right.
Our income has grown from an average of £1.2m annually for each of the charities to an expected £10m this year. We have just published a clear, targeted and ambitious five-year strategy, endorsed by leading global neuro-specialists. Thousands more people affected by a brain tumour are supported, involved and active in changing outcomes.
Could this have been achieved without merger? Undoubtedly, no. As a larger charity, we have greater strength and better brand awareness. Furthermore, the very act of driving forward the merger created a momentum that inspired those who remained with the charity or were newly recruited to the organisation.
Our knowledge and experience show that only ambitious goals are adequate to the task of making real and lasting change, so that a brain tumour diagnosis no longer means a death sentence. This aspiration is reflected in our new organisational goals: to double survival within ten years and to halve the negative impact that brain tumours have on quality of life.
We need to talk
Unfortunately, despite the coming together of the main charities, there are still scores of other small groups. It can be difficult for people who want to fund research, and those in need of support and information, to work out which charity should have their backing.
Maybe it is time once again to talk to others in our space, and to see how, united, we can defeat brain tumours. We know that most brain tumour charities are formed by motivated, passionate people who have lost someone they were close to. It is not easy to start this conversation with such founder-led small charities. But finding a cure and better treatments isnít easy either. We have to do our bit.
Now is not the time to be timid, if further mergers could lead to a bigger impact for those affected by this devastating disease.