As a Foundation with a long history of partnering with impactful ministries, we have been through many learning curves. We have persistently sought the Lord and adapted the way we do things out of obedience to Him and His purposes for the Mergon Foundation. He has taken us on a journey and shaped our thinking, including our funding approach. How we show up in spaces, our posture of partnership and the focus that we place on relationships are all critical to our funding strategy.
We don’t have all the answers. There is always more to glean from those who have gone before us and those who come alongside us. Allow us to share something of our journey and thinking. Our hope is that in sharing, others will feel called and inspired towards greater Kingdom generosity.
Giving through partnership
When the Mergon Foundation was established, we used to have more of a transactional relationship with our beneficiaries where we would approve applications and provide funding where needed. Over time our perspective on partnership broadened and our understanding of the role God wants us to play shifted – we describe this as moving from being a conduit to a resource partner.
Says Mergon Foundation’s Neil Hart, ‘We want our primary vehicle of giving to be through partnership because we believe that the DNA of the Kingdom is relationships. Jesus came for us because he loved us, and we want to be funders that consider relationships in the same way.’
Naturally, the primary reason people approach us is for financial support but for us, being a resource partner speaks beyond just the money. We have realised over time that the world is a big place and money doesn’t go very far. We want to make sure that we steward our capital well and as a result, we’ve truly come to see the value of collaboration and networking. We therefore look for those multiplier-type initiatives, those networks and collaborative initiatives where the little part we play can have a much bigger (catalytic) impact.
‘At the recent Professionals in Christian Philanthropy (PCP) Conference I realised that though we were one of the smallest foundations present in terms of funding, we were one of the biggest in terms of the size of our team, or our ‘human capital’,’ Neil explains. ‘I see this as a reflection of Mergon staying true to its relational DNA. The decision to have a bigger team has allowed us to better invest in people and ministries who are passionate about seeing God’s kingdom manifest on earth. It has allowed us to have a team that is outwardly focussed – not only on the work of our ministry partners and what they need, but also on the holistic health and well-being of those ministry leaders.’
Mergon Foundation’s Healthy Leaders Journey is one such example which is specifically designed to create more support for the leaders with whom we’re partnering.
‘Over the course of a year, our partners experience a carefully curated leadership journey filled with thought-provoking spiritual conversations, rich peer engagements and wide-ranging support. Its purpose is to refresh and envision our partners for all God has for them,’ explains Neil.
‘We often see leaders doing amazing things but we’re not always aware of the tremendous burdens they carry. It’s not just the spiritual burdens that they have to carry but also the financial and emotional burdens of their family, team and the people they’re ministering to. We really want to support these leaders, love them better and make sure that we’re not just ‘funding a ministry’ but that we are actually in partnership on a much deeper level,’ says Neil.
A growing understanding of the needs in different regions
Mergon deploys funds into three regions namely South Africa, sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and Middle East North Africa (MENA). Initially, we had a one-size-fits-all approach, but we became more and more aware of how God is at work in his own unique ways in each region.
The first question we therefore ask is ‘God, what are You doing in this region and how can we join You?’ Each of our three regional teams asks this question and out of it has emerged three unique regional strategies.
Though each strategy is different according to the needs we identified and the role we sense God wants us to play in that region, we consider potential partners by looking through three primary lenses:
- Do they clearly share the message of the gospel through their ministry activities?
- Do they have discipleship programmes and activities in place to help new believers to mature as followers of Jesus?
- Do they get people involved in healthy church communities where they can have a sense of belonging on their faith journey?
Mergon Foundation partners with organisations that focus on one or more of the abovementioned aspects because ultimately, our goal is to see God’s kingdom expand.
Closing the power gap
One of our greatest challenges is the tangible power dynamic that descends upon a room as soon as capital walks in. We’ve experienced it many times, but we want to be responsible with the influence that comes with being stewards of capital. This means that we are constantly trying to get better at laying down that power when we walk into a room to establish equal standing with our stakeholders – this happens through prayer, honesty, vulnerability and authentic relationships.
While our partnership cycle is only a three-year cycle, we know that our partners’ journeys continue long after our funding cycle has ended. Our desire is therefore simply to be faithful while we have the privilege of partnership and to see them and their Kingdom activities flourish well into the future.