Measured by the bottom line, a merger between White-Williams Scholars and Philadelphia Futures seems hardly noteworthy.
After all, the two Philadelphia nonprofit groups are worth barely $12 million, couch-cushion change when compared, say, with the $68 billion Pfizer Inc. spent to buy Wyeth last year.
Still, the thought of a marriage of the two college-prep programs gave Susan Segal goose bumps.
"I still have them, and I have had a smile on my face for a week," said Segal, a program officer for the Lincoln Financial Foundation. "It is just so right."
The merger, to be formally announced Monday, will mark a rare coming together of two well-established and financially stable nonprofit organizations with a goal of serving more students more effectively.
While unions among nonprofit groups are not unheard of, in most cases the motive is simply survival.
"Frequently these types of mergers are driven by some sort of financial crisis," said Bruce Melgary, executive director of the Brook J. Lenfest Foundation. "That doesn't seem to be the case here."
Joan Mazzotti, executive director of Philadelphia Futures, called the move "a bold step" for both organizations.
One could argue it is particularly bold for White-Williams, which can trace its roots to 1800 and ranks as among the oldest charities in the United States.
"As you might imagine, this decision was carefully considered," said Ed Covington, president of the White-Williams board. "We are an organization with a tremendous 200-year history of service to Philadelphia, that is very healthy, with a stellar reputation. And the decision to change would have to be a compelling positive to an already positive story."
In this instance, Covington and Mazzotti say they believe that is the case.
"Both boards recognized that by merging, the whole would be greater than the parts," Mazzotti said.
No decision has been made as to what the new organization will be called, she said. That is among the issues to be resolved before the two groups formally merge in March.
Both nonprofit groups share the common goal of helping high school students from low-income homes get to college and successfully navigate their time there.
White-Williams, for many years, was primarily concerned with keeping high school students invested in their studies. It provided financial stipends for high school students who kept their grades at a B level or higher.
It discovered over time, however, that that was not enough to ensure those students were successful once in college. With that in mind, White-Williams has more recently begun developing mentoring and academic programs to guide students through college as well. White-Williams has about 14 employees. Its offices are at 215 S. Broad St.
Philadelphia Futures, established in 1989, has long been focused on providing academic support and scholarships for its students throughout high school and college. It was looking to grow. Philadelphia Futures has 17 employees and offices at 230 S. Broad St.
"We came to see both organizations have aspirations that could be more quickly achieved together," Covington said.
One would think such logic might bring a wide range of overlapping nonprofit groups to consider mergers. Apparently not.
"Far too often egos and a sense of ownership get in the way," said Laura Otten, executive director of the Nonprofit Center at La Salle University.
Said Melgary: "If not forced by economic necessity, there is no urgency to merge. Especially if you have a comfortable situation where you have a happy board and a happy staff."
Covington said he hoped the White-Williams and Philadelphia Futures partnership might change that.
"We really want to demonstrate there is a value for two healthy organizations coming together," he said. "We hope to establish a template for the nonprofit marketplace, and say, 'Yes, you can do it and look at the benefits you can achieve if you do.' "