Two major housing-related non-profit organizations in the International District announced the decision to merge on Oct. 20. The move made by the InterIm Community Development Association and the International District Housing Alliance, will help both agencies better assist the changing populations they serve and maximize efforts in economically turbulent times.
For many non-profit organizations serving ethnic minority populations, the question of how to best work alongside organizations with similar visions is a concern. For Hyeok Kim and Sharyne Shiu Thornton, executive directors of InterIm CDA and IDHA respectively, the option of merging materialized from commiserating about what it meant to be an ED of non-profits in the aftermath of the 2008 recession.
It quickly became clear that merging posed a chance for growth.
The core of InterIm CDA’s activities is in housing development, consisting of both new construction and renovations, said Kim at a press conference on Oct. 21 that followed the announcement of the merge. In contrast, IDHA focuses on housing search and stabilization, ranging from homeless prevention to even financial literacy programs, said Thornton. Both programs aim to provide refugee and immigrant populations with permanent housing.
“We didn’t see an overlap but we saw that even as separate programs we had collaborations,” said Kim. “There is a vision and mission compatibility and together the programs can be integrated to strengthen one another.”
The merge comes from a result of trying to be innovative, and staying “ahead of the curve rather than being reactive,” said Kim. Thornton said that the process could potentially become a model for other non-profits that are looking for long-term sustainability.
Companies are often believed to merge when one is struggling economically and another takes over to keep it afloat. Both Kim and Thornton stressed that this was not the case for either organization.
“The synergy that exists is looking at where we have strengths and where we have gaps. If we were to come together how could we collectively build an infrastructure that is stronger and better positioned for long-term stability to meet a common goal?” asked Thornton.
Joel Ing was selected as board president of the newly merged InterIm CDA and IDHA. He also was involved in the merging process, which was the result of the efforts of a “merger work group.” After receiving a grant from the Seattle Foundation in 2009, members from both camps met twice a month to look at bylaws, organization structures, and job descriptions to determine if there would be a fit, said Ing. Not only did they find a fit in these categories, they also realized there was a personality fit.
“We peeled the onion even more by looking at personalities. How would this really mesh?” asked Ing. He emphasized the importance of respecting the culture and personality of both individuals and the organization. He said that the merger was able to proceed because the personalities of the two organizations fit together.
In terms of seeing the merger as a model for other nonprofits, Thornton cautioned that it cannot be externally imposed but must be a product of the staff and board’s willingness to work together.
The new board will address the issue of a new name in the beginning of the coming year. Preservation of the history of these organizations is also a responsibility of the new board, said Ing.
And that history is not mutually exclusive. IDHA was actually created by the InterIm CDA around 1975 to further address housing needs.
“We’ve come full circle,” said Thornton.
Both non-profits are excited about the possible areas of birth made possible by the merge.
“How are we paying attention to the resident’s quality of life and their economic opportunities so that they and their children won’t need subsidized housing in the future?” asked Kim. “That is where the potential in merging with an agency like IDHA with their core of culturally competent social services is really exciting for us.”
To learn more, contact Elizabeth Gray at [email protected].