On the north side of Tucson is the strikingly beautiful Jewish Community Center, known these days as “the J.” Closer to downtown is the smaller, brilliant yellow building that houses Arts for All.
Although miles apart, these two thriving nonprofits are about to become partners in an integration that, although it had a few hitches, has overall been a smooth, friendly, mission-oriented merger that will lift both organizations onto a higher and more sustainable path.
HOW DID THEY DO IT?
According to Marcia Berger, she started by “shopping around.”
To tell the story, Marcia takes us back more than 30-years to a time when children in her neighborhood were dejected because they had no place to go and nothing to do after school. Marcia invited them into her home for a dance class, and Arts for All (as it eventually became known) was born. Through the years, supported by a series of very fortunate events, the nonprofit has expanded its scope to include arts classes for able and differently-abled children and adults.
Two years ago, Marcia was approaching her seventies and increasingly aware that working 60+ hours each week no longer made sense. What’s more, she believed the organization she built deserved to live far beyond her. With renewed emphasis on creating a succession plan, she launched what she calls her “listening tour.”
Over the course of the next 24 months, Marcia met for coffee or lunch with her own board members and with everyone she could find – in the Tucson area and nationally – who had been involved in a merger, consulted on a merger or had an opinion on the matter. During the course of that process, Marcia and “the J” found each other.
Todd Rockoff, CEO of the Tucson Jewish Community Center said, “It became so evident that we shared the same mission and values. It made sense to continue on that path and to see what was possible.”
The J already had a substantial adult day care program that began around ten years ago. It started small, but has grown to accommodate 45 clients. It still has a waiting list, making Arts for All and its potential for additional capacity especially attractive.
Detailed meetings are underway, both Boards have approved the action, with a final deal is expected in the first quarter of 2020. When asked if the process was difficult, Todd was quick to say, “No! Everyone has been working towards the same thing. Sure, we hit small speedbumps, but it was amazing to see everyone work through them respectfully and with a deep sense of collaboration.” Once their work is complete, Arts for All will become a set of programs contained within the greater JCC umbrella.
And while “merger” may be the technically correct term to describe the way Arts for All and the J are joining forces, both Marcia and Todd are quick to point out that’s not how they think about it. They prefer “integration.” Marcia said, “Merger sounds hostile and both parties lose some of who they are. ‘Integration’ respects the power of both organizations and honors what they’ve accomplished. You don’t lose who you are.”
“What matters most,” she added, “Is that we found a partner who values what we do. That’s really important to us.”
Both Todd and Marcia offer similar advice: work far in advance and take your time.
Todd suggested, “I wouldn’t sprint to the end of the road. Instead, get to know each other, ensure there is a good fit and that shared set of values.” Marcia also counsels openness and patience. “We need to be there for each other and support the other’s mission. Be open and realize we’re better together.”