The merger of two organizations will help strengthen Arizona’s nonprofit sector by allowing it to work with government and business experts and create a “unified voice” on public policy issues that impact residents and the communities they serve.
So say officials with Arizona Grantmakers Forum and the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits, two organizations whose merger became official on August 1. These two powerhouse organizations have combined after a unanimous decision from both boards of directors. Kristen Merrifield, the CEO of the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits, is leading the merged organizations, which are under the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits name.
Merrifield said in a press release that she believes the merger will “leverage the combined strengths” of the two organizations. She said that this merger will benefit Arizona nonprofit organizations and the sector as a whole.
Laurie Liles, who was the president and CEO of Arizona Grantmakers Forum, has become the chief public policy officer for the newly merged organizations. She is focusing on advocacy work and maintaining connections with nonprofit community members. Before the merger, neither Arizona Grantmakers Forum nor the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits had a public policy expert. Liles said that her new role as chief public policy officer will help strengthen the state’s nonprofit sector by allowing it to work with Arizona’s governmental and business leaders.
Liles said the two organizations started collaborating in 2019. After realizing the overlapping values of the two organizations, they started considering a partnership or merger.
“The ultimate conclusion that we all reached after a lot of conversations, a lot of soul searching and a lot of engagement of our members’ stakeholders was that it absolutely makes the most sense for the nonprofits, the funders and the philanthropic providers to be under one roof in one organization serving the entire sector,” Liles said. “So there was a lot of alignment between our two organizations.”
The Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits had a similar approach as the Arizona Grantmakers Forum, calling itself a “unifying voice” of the nonprofit industry. Formed in 2004, that organization has supported more than 20,000 nonprofits in Arizona. Like the Arizona Grantmakers Forum, it focused on providing training and networking opportunities to nonprofits.
“We’re really on the cutting edge in terms of organizations that have merged the two associations serving the separate sectors,” Liles said. “So that’s one of the things that’s really exciting about the merger.”
Torrie Taj, chairwoman for the alliance board, as well as CEO of nonprofit Child Crisis Arizona, said she thinks the merger will help “unlock potential” for Arizona nonprofits to problem solve. This will be particularly helpful to those serving communities in need. Taj also said that the merger will make grantmaking processes more efficient, and the consolidation of those in the nonprofit sector will create a “unified voice on public policy issues that affect our sector and the people and communities we serve.”
Child Crisis Arizona provides emergency services to vulnerable children, including those in foster care and poverty, as well as abuse survivors.
In the past, the two organizations worked together on a project called Arizona Gives, which serves as a fundraiser for nonprofits. Since 2013, Arizona Gives has raised nearly $36.4 million. Arizona Gives also serves as an awareness campaign to educate people about the important role of nonprofits. Some of the nonprofits it works with include those that advocate for education, as well as health and human services, social justice and professional development.
There are around 20,000 nonprofit organizations in the state. The Arizona Nonprofit Conference 2022 drew keynote speakers and featured 17 workshops in Phoenix on August 25. This event served as another opportunity for local nonprofit leaders to learn and network.
During the conference, the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits and the Arizona Grantmakers Forum celebrated their merger. This sold-out convention was the Alliance’s first public event as an amalgamation. It also was the first in-person Arizona Nonprofit Conference since 2019. Over the past couple of years, the conference was put on hold due to the Covid pandemic.
The pandemic hurt nonprofit organizations like it did businesses in Arizona. According to a survey that the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits conducted, 74% of nonprofits in the state closed their physical location during the pandemic. Nearly half of these nonprofits are still closed. Many organizations are looking toward a remote or hybrid system.
The pandemic has also led to employee furloughs and lay-offs. Around Arizona, the average nonprofit laid-off 26% to 50% of employees. Most nonprofits also had to reduce the number of volunteers due to Covid concerns.
Merrifield said this was an especially difficult situation because, while many nonprofits were forced to downsize or close their doors, the need for nonprofits was surging.
“Many more people, because they were not working, needed nonprofit services,” she said. “They needed a food bank, maybe for the first time. Unfortunately, we saw a rise in domestic violence, people losing their homes and mental health challenges. So, nonprofits had to actually ramp up. And with a limited workforce, and with sickness of their own on their teams, the volunteer shortage was huge.”
Merrifield also said that the arts and culture-related nonprofits suffered immensely during this time due to stay-at-home orders. There were relief acts passed by the federal government, but Merrifield said those “only lasted so long.”
Although things are beginning to look up, nonprofits are still on a road to recovery. However, with the combined efforts of two powerful organizations merging into one, Arizona nonprofits have a formidable player on their team.