More Than Wheels, established in 2001, helps its participants get the best deal on a car by negotiating with car dealers to secure the lowest price and providing participants with low-interest loans. Ways to Work, established in 1984, provides loans to low-income families that are most often used to purchase cars. By late 2009, both organizations were exploring how best to grow and scale their impact. More Than Wheels had started opening new offices throughout New England, but quickly realized that establishing the infrastructure for each new office was extremely costly. In addition, the organization was struggling with managing multiple offices and growing its client base. Similarly, Ways to Work faced challenges as it explored options for expansion. The organization wanted its services to benefit a broader pool of clients, and had decided that starting a new service was the best way to achieve this goal.
At the suggestion of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the two organizations began discussions to determine whether a merger between the two organizations might help both organizations overcome their individual challenges and achieve their aspirations to increase their impact—and if so, what the merger would look like.
With support from the SeaChange-Lodestar Fund and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Ways to Work and More Than Wheels hired Root Cause to facilitate a merger exploration process. As a third party, consultants were able to talk with each organization about their individual needs and priorities and represent both organizations’ interests throughout discussions to determine ways they might be able to work together to meet the individual challenges of each while expanding their impact. Our consultants also guided the organizations through the completion of legal and financial due diligence, and synthesized and packaged information about the two organizations in a way that was both respectful of each organization and also helped drive discussions about how the two organizations could work together.
Through this process, Root Cause’s goal was to help Ways to Work and More Than Wheels determine whether the optimal way of working together was to 1) merge into one entity, 2) establish a partnership, or 3) collaborate in order to understand how to improve their own work based on the strengths and lessons learned by the other organization.
As a result of this merger exploration process, More Than Wheels and Ways to Work decided that the best way to move forward was option #3: collaborating to understand how they could each improve their own practices based on the strengths and lessons learned by the other organization. Although they did not decide to merge, both organizations found that the process of engaging in an in-depth, facilitated process in which they exchanged information and discussed strengths, challenges, and ways to improve was extremely beneficial, and helped propel both organizations to a higher level of impact. As discussed in Collaborative Learning: A Case Study on More Than Wheels & Ways to Work, this process of collaborative learning can be a cost-efficient way for two organizations tackling similar social problems to benefit from each other’s strengths and scale their impact more quickly, without having to address the organizational and cultural challenges of a merger.
Ways to Work is a unique Community Development Financial Institution based in Milwaukee, WI. Through a network of more than 44 loan offices across the country, Ways to Work helps working families move to greater levels of self-sufficiency with access to financial education and reliable transportation.
More Than Wheels is an award-winning nonprofit organization that helps people get the best deal on a reliable and fuel-efficient car. Since its establishment in 2001, the organization has helped thousands of New England residents get the best deal on a new or nearly new car by negotiating with dealers to secure the lowest price and providing the lowest interest rate available.