DARIEN — Howard Morgan began working with nonprofits when he was in college. The Darien resident joined the board of a group started by his father, Ambassadors for Friendship, which brought American performing groups to eastern Europe. The group helped bring thousands of American marching bands, choirs, orchestras and jazz ensembles to countries like Poland, Russia and Romania during a time when tensions were high between the U.S. and these nations.

“It made a major impact of opening eyes of eastern Europe to America, if not generally the West,” Morgan said.

Though Morgan has since pursued a career in private equity — he’s a partner and senior managing director at Argand Partners — he remained involved with nonprofits. Years later, Morgan’s father was teaching in Romania when he died of Parkinson’s disease. When Morgan moved back to the U.S. after living in Australia for two years for a business venture, he joined the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation in honor of his father.

Morgan is the vice chairman of the new Parkinson’s Foundation, an organization created in a merger between the National Parkinson Foundation and the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. As the new group gets on its feet, Morgan sat down to talk about his plans for the Parkinson’s Foundation and why nonprofit organizations are so important to him.

Q: Was there a special reason you chose an organization with Parkinson’s as their cause?

A: In the case of Parkinson's, my father had (it). I had moved the family from Darien to Australia from 2000-2002. I resigned from all boards, so when we moved back, I was interested in getting involved in some things again, and the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation was looking for younger board members. At the time, I was the youngest new member. I was always interested in science and health care and my day job has nothing to do with that. It was interesting to be involved with something that’s very different. I am learning, listening and trying to provide more business-like structures to an overlay science that I’ll never begin to understand. But it’s important that we are able to articulate high science to average people. I’m kind of the test case. If they can describe it so I can understand, we can explain it to our supporters. Many of the people involved in Parkinson’s, and you’ll find this in all foundations that support health care, there’s some personal experience and it has helped me make the case for the cause. I saw the suffering and embarrassment from uncontrollable tremors. Even a decade or two ago, Parkinson’s was not spoken about. I think the fact that now more people are able to speak out publicly about the experience only helps bring the disease out the closet. Ultimately, it’ll contribute to better treatments and help find a cure.

Q: What was your role with the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation and in the merger?

A: I was chairman of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation and spearheaded with my counterparts at the National Parkinson Foundation the concept of putting the two groups together. Both the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation and the National Parkinson Foundation were started in the late 1950s. We were started in New York area, they were started in Miami area. Parkinson’s Disease will celebrate its 200th year — it was identified in 1817 as a disease — and maybe since it’s been around so long, it’s fragmented in terms of groups that support us. Other than Michael J. Fox, the two organizations would’ve been the next largest. Combined, we’re the largest by far serving Parkinson’s.

Q: Why are mergers uncommon within the not-for-profit sector?

I think part of the reason is that the ownership structure is not like private corporation where there is an economic gain for the owner. There is no owner. I think sadly too many are a bit defensive and insular, comfortable perhaps. Both organizations were doing just fine, but I think the vision was together, we’d do far better.

Q: Why did you get involved with not-for-profits?

A: My father built his whole career in the not-for-profit sector, so while I’m a businessman, I always believed in being very active in not-for-profits. Part of it is the family background, but I am a graduate of Harvard Business School and a very active volunteer there. They define business school as educating leaders that make a difference in the world and I think making a difference is working in not-for-profit space. I think not-for-profits are organizations that can benefit from of all training of for profit orientation and I think making a difference in people’s lives is very important.

Q: What are your goals and plans for the new organization?

A: In any merger, there is compromise. The first step is putting them together and now we have to grow the combined group. It’s comprised of 11 directors from the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation and 11 directors from the National Parkinson Foundation. We’d also look at other directors unaffiliated with either organization over time. Part of the arrangement is two years from now, I’ll take over as chairman. We want to make sure that each organization continues to do the excellent things they did that were unique. The Parkinson's Disease Foundation was more focused on basic scientific research and at the margin, the National Parkinson Foundation was more focused on patient care and research into effective patient care. Both group will operate on divisions for a period time while we develop a strategy for the groups to go together as a single brand as the Parkinson’s Foundation. The National Parkinson Foundation has an interim CEO and our CEO of many decades announced his desire to retire. We’re looking very publicly a for new CEO. Other than the hiring of the new CEO, we are exploring ways to work for both team to work on coordinated basis. There’s some duplication of what’s done on both sides, so it’ll be more efficient. Our desire is to put that towards growth and that money we spend go towards our mission.

ekayata@hearstmediact.com; @erin_kayata