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“For us, our executive transition was the right time to ask ourselves some big questions. Based on our experience, my advice to other board members is that they should consider all of the possibilities instead of thinking that if they’re the ones who close an organization, they’re failing or not doing their fiduciary job. Ask yourself, ‘Are you staying true to the mission, or to a corporate structure?’” Pamela Murray, board chair, EMPath

The Moment

In autumn 2005, The Women’s Union (TWU) was facing a major organizational transition. In addition to losing its executive director, it had a big windfall of cash that it needed to reinvest in its programs. Across the city, another venerable Boston nonprofit serving disadvantaged women, Crittenton Inc., was facing a similar yet different challenge. Its executive was also leaving, but it was facing a situation of being asset rich and cash poor. Both organizations needed a new leader who was up for a challenge.

The Power of Possibility

Through serendipity and chance, the two organizations discovered that they both had approached the same candidate about becoming their next leader. They quickly realized that this presented a huge opportunity. Under one organization and one leader, they could transform the way their organizations were working and move from creating safe havens for the women they served to helping these women move themselves and their families into economic independence.

The executive search created the space for a conversation about a merger, and the conversation about a merger created the opportunity to thoughtfully organize a more strategic set of programs and services around the shared goal of economic mobility and independence. Under a new organizational name, EMPath, new programs were designed, such as the award-winning Mobility Mentoring program, while several other programs were dissolved or transferred to other organizations.

The Result

The merger gave EMPath valuable economies of scale: one headquarters building, one back office. But even more important, it enabled a new approach to addressing poverty for women and children in Boston. As the new CEO, Elizabeth Babcock, explained, “We changed from delivering services to the poor to innovating new pathways out of poverty.” This shift opened up new opportunities for expansion and impact and has led to strong post-merger growth, neither of which would have been possible without the creativity and openness of their board leaders.