Three steps to release local funding

FiftyFour: Three steps to release local funding | Mergon

As a ministry or non-profit leader, what comes to mind when you hear the word, fundraising? UK-based fundraiser and consultant, Redina Kolaneci, inspires us to think of it, not as a daunting or onerous task, but as something deeply fulfilling and dynamic along your organisation’s journey.

With over 20 years of experience, Redina has worked alongside ministries to grow their funding and foster healthy donor relationships around the globe. Recently, her focus has shifted to understanding the dynamics of local giving, including the challenges and opportunities presented in scripture, to engage the local community as active participants in our ministries’ impact.

Recently, FiftyFour, an online learning platform for growing healthy organisations developed in collaboration with Mergon, Maclellan and 3W Foundations, focussed on fundraising during their April live learning event. Here is an overview of Redina’s talk entitled ‘Three steps to releasing local funding’.

Why local giving matters

‘Who makes up the bulk of your funding streams?’ Redina asks. ‘For several organisations, their donors consist of only a few wealthy individuals, or a foundation or church – a handful of generous givers that financially back the mission.’ While their support is vital, Redina argues that relying so heavily on few external sources can pose a serious risk to the organisation’s longevity and impact. ‘Even the most generous ministries have to scale back from time to time,’ she says. ‘What happens if a major donor withdraws their giving? Very often, a ministry is set back for years when this happens – or is even unable to continue altogether.’

 The solution, she suggests, is in diversifying your income streams, and particularly growing a culture of local giving. Engaging the local community is not only critical for organisational stability, Redina argues, but is good for the community as well.

She states, ‘By inviting local believers to respond to local needs, we offer them an opportunity to love and care for their neighbours. Generosity builds and strengthens community, sharing in a common burden for the poor and needy. Giving locally helps us put our faith in action – going beyond mere words and expressing God’s love for our neighbours in deed.’

Having explained why local funding matters both financially and biblically, Redina now shares three steps to nurture and release it.

1. Focus on the people in front of you

Redina shares, ‘From my experience, most mission organisations tend to assume that money will come from outside, from people they don’t know. However, you cannot expect people on the other side of the world to take an interest in someone they’ve never met or somewhere they don’t know. If you want to grow local funding, I encourage you to open your eyes and see the people that God has already put around you.’ Referencing Acts 1:8, Redina urges us not to ‘look to the “ends of the earth” for ministry support but rather to start with our own backyard. More specifically, she says, ‘start with the local church’.

‘It’s through the church that we can find our greatest support: Individuals who buy into the vision. Volunteers who embrace the work and become ambassadors in the community. Businesspeople who serve as strategic partners. People who pray and befriend you on the journey.’

Redina reminds us, however, that partnership goes both ways; while the local church can support the ministry, reciprocally, the ministry has an opportunity to support the church. She urges leaders to ‘get out there’, visiting and praying with church leaders, and learning how your mission or ministry can get behind their activities. ‘As you contribute and bless them, they will bless you in return; they’ll contribute to your mission work.’

2. Tell compelling stories, ask, thank and report back

‘Over the years’, Redina says, ‘I’ve discovered that people are not moved by programmes; they want to witness lives being transformed. They want to see how a child who was once living in poverty and hopelessness is now thriving, attending school, and learning about Jesus. They want to hear how a woman who had cataracts in her eyes can now see and rebuild her life – or how someone, previously unfamiliar with their own language, can now read. They’re not really interested in all the steps you take to get there or the acronyms associated with these steps; they want to be moved by stories.’

According to Redina, there are four core elements of every good fundraising story. ‘Firstly, the story must speak to the need in a powerful, emotive way. It then demonstrates how your involvement is a solution to the problem. A good story invites others to be a part of the journey, whether through financial giving, prayers, or physical participation. And lastly, it emphasises the urgency of the matter – clearly communicating why it’s so important to give now and not “next time”.’

Once a person has given, Redina reminds us to be prompt, personal and creative in thanking them. ‘Don’t wait weeks after their donation to contact them – do it ideally within 24 or 48 hours of making a gift.’ she says. ‘Don’t fall into the trap of thinking “giving to God” is sufficient and doesn’t warrant expressed gratitude. Everyone enjoys being thanked and recognised for their contribution, feeling that their support has made a difference.’

Lastly, Redina emphasises the importance of regularly updating donors on the impact of their contributions, whether through newsletters, e-updates, videos, or other preferred communication channels. ‘Reporting can happen straight away, but it also can happen maybe six months from now. There’s nothing more rewarding than being able to show donors the school, the hospital, the community centre – tangible outputs that their generosity has made possible.’

3. Be accountable and transparent

Accountability and trust are especially key factors within the local context. Redina explains that unlike a foundation from abroad that is satisfied to receive a few photos, local churches and believers can directly witness the impact and assess whether words and actions are aligned.

To foster trust and credibility, Redina recommends that leaders maintain an ‘open door’ policy concerning financial reporting, ensuring transparency within their financial management and accountability structures. She also suggests being proactive in communicating how and where your funds are being used. Hosting open days, for example, invites accountability and welcomes the local community to come and see the work firsthand.

Redina concludes the discussion by encouraging leaders to share their stories with others because ‘fundraising, when done well, can be the catalyst for connecting God’s people with His purposes’. She adds, ‘Applying these steps consistently will help grow your local support, inspiring others to join in the joy of giving.’

FiftyFour is an online learning and capacity-building platform designed to guide leaders towards growing healthy organisations. It offers a variety of tools, courses, and peer learning events, designed to strengthen leaders and organisations in nine essential areas. This Live Learning session is just one aspect of the support available, specifically focussing on ‘funding’. To watch the full event and explore all that FiftyFour has to offer, free of charge, visit and register today.

Dancing with porcupines: the art of skilful conflict handling

Dancing with porcupines: the art of skilful conflict handling

In any aspect of life, especially in leadership, conflict is inevitable. The key lies not in avoiding it but in addressing it wisely and constructively. This online workshop, hosted on the FiftyFour platform, features John Yip discussing the nuances of conflict, different approaches to handling it, and the potential conflict holds for fostering enhanced collaboration and outcomes.

The gift of conflict

‘We can look at conflict from two very different vantage points,’ explains John. ‘On one hand, it can be demotivating and hinder risk-taking. Confrontational people are often viewed as troublemakers, especially if you’re trying to lead people in a certain direction.’

‘While this can be true,’ John adds, ‘there is another way we can look at conflict – and this is to see it as something positive and productive, a tool that can be leveraged for the organisation’s good. It’s in the chaffing of differing opinions that we’re sharpened and honed, in the friction of opposing perspectives that we discover fresh energy and ideas, flag underlying emotions, unearth potentialities.’

The benefits of storming

Bruce Tuckman, in his Team Development Model, emphasises the importance of constructive conflict for cultivating high-performing teams. In this model, he identifies five stages that he believes are essential to achieving effectiveness and unity as a team. One of the early stages along this developmental journey, he notes, is the ‘storming’ stage.

‘Until now, the team has been getting to know each other,’ he explains. ‘People are generally excited, and conflicts have been minimal. But as time goes on, we might see some disagreements popping up. Personal agendas and power struggles may come to the surface, leading to divisions like cliques or splinter groups.’

This, he suggests, is not something to shy away from but to leverage as a helpful diagnostic tool. ‘It’s here’, he says, ‘that you can start to observe how people are experiencing your leadership. Are they jockeying for roles or power, and if so, why? Is there a sense buy-in to the vision, and if not, why not? You can begin to discuss these matters and address core issues, while facilitating opportunities for the team to grow their communication and interpersonal skills,’ explains John. ‘The key lies in recognising the root causes of conflict and harnessing this tension to not only promote more authentic work but also cultivate more authentic teams.’

Five styles of conflict management

While circumstances and leadership contexts can influence it, explains John, leaders typically have a default approach to handling conflict. According to the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Management model, this behaviour can be summed up in five main responses, which can be seen below.

Each of these responses, he says, is shaped by the unique interplay between assertiveness and cooperativeness. Assertiveness is the extent to which you pursue your own interests to satisfy your concern. Cooperativeness, on the other hand, is the extent to which you consider others’ interests. ‘Depending on the unique combination of these characteristics’, he explains, ‘we find ourselves responding to conflict in one of the following ways.’

1. Competing

As Kilmann suggests, this is a ‘winner takes all’ approach to conflict management.  While effective in the short run, this style can cause damage in the long run, especially when a leadership transition is needed. ‘It’s difficult for a highly assertive leader to step down or step sideways in the organisation,’ says John. ‘Learning to be number two requires embracing a different mindset, where your win is not at the expense of someone else’s loss.’

2. Accommodating

Accommodating, on the other hand, is the opposite of competing. ‘This conflict style,’ says John, ‘is all about sacrificing your interests to satisfy the other party. It requires selflessness, aiming to maintain harmony and preserve relationships.’ However, he notes, overusing accommodation can be unhelpful, leading to a sort of ‘lose-win’ situation. He says, ‘There’s an element of self-sacrifice involved, which can be mistaken with a selfless generosity. But staying quiet, complying for the sake of ‘peace’, ultimately undermines the team developmental process. It risks never going through the storming stage, creating a false harmony in the team.’

3. Avoiding

For many, avoiding is the easiest and most instinctive response to conflict handling. While John acknowledges that avoidance can be beneficial for creating a pause to cool down and revisit the issue later, it’s not advisable to make it the default approach to addressing issues. Ultimately, neglecting to tackle the underlying problem allows it to persist and hinder overall the team’s potential.

4. Collaborating

Collaborating is both assertive and cooperative—the complete opposite of avoiding. ‘It emphasises finding mutually satisfactory solutions,’ says John. ‘Collaborating is forged through open communication, active listening, and a high willingness to explore different perspectives to reach consensus. Collaborating requires patience, because laying your own preferences down and seeking a mutual win – a third way – takes time and humility. Collaborating always involves sacrifice, because it’s no longer about what’s solely best for me or for you, but what is best for us.’

5. Compromising

The ‘compromising approach,’ as per Kilmann’s model, falls in the middle ground, exhibiting moderate levels of both assertiveness and cooperativeness, a balance of giving and taking. In compromising, you partially address the issue, but you don’t delve into it as deeply as you would when collaborating. Explains John, ‘Compromise is all about concessions, seeking a mutually acceptable solution that partially satisfies both parties—a half-win scenario. Compromising can have you feeling like both parties lose in the end. It’s okay for the short term but it’s not sustainable in the long run.’

‘Kilmann’s model has been helpful for me in team settings, providing language and a framework to understand different conflict resolution approaches,’ says John. ‘The best conflict handling style is situational, depending on the specific conflict, the people involved, and what the moment requires. Everyone is capable of using all five styles; none should use a single one exclusively. Even Jesus Himself leaned into all five styles of addressing conflict.’

‘It’s important to remember’, John concluded, ‘that conflict is not bad; it’s merely a symptom of a problem to be solved, rather than a battle to be won. You’re not fighting each other; you’re actually looking to find a way forward together. If well navigated, conflict can strengthen and enrich relationships, moving them from pseudo to high-performing teams that leave a lasting impact for generations to come.’

More on FiftyFour

FiftyFour is an online learning and capacity-building platform designed to guide leaders towards growing healthy organisations. The platform centres on four pillars: assessment tools, impactful courses, connection with other leaders, and data & research. These benefits provide leaders the opportunity to assess their needs, access applicable learning, learn from peers and understand data from their region that can inform their growth.

As part of the learning journey, leaders are invited to attend online workshops where they can learn, connect and engage with specialists over topics relevant to organisational health. This event, hosted in late 2023, marked FiftyFour’s inaugural workshop. All of these workshops are free and will be hosted on a monthly basis throughout 2024.

FiftyFour was launched as a free resource, available to all non-profit leaders. If you’re interested in learning more about the platform and joining this journey, along with participating in events like this one, register here:

The unseen link between organisational health and impact for non-profits

Non-profit organisations operate within a complex ecosystem. They navigate many challenges and opportunities as they strive to achieve their missions. This complexity often poses hurdles for leaders, demanding a delicate balance between strategic growth and maintaining a healthy organisational culture. In this article, Mergon Foundation’s Ian Conolly discusses the critical link between the health of an organisation and its performance, shedding light on the importance of nurturing vibrant and healthy organisational practices.

Jim Collins, in the foreword of the book Engine of Impact, says ‘it is substantially more difficult to build a great social sector organisation than to build a great business corporation of similar scale. And that is why the best-run, most impactful non-profits stand as some of the most impressive enterprises in the world.’

‘The best non-profits are truly spectacular,’ said Kim Jonker in a conversation about this book. ‘They will take your breath away.’ ​And yet most non-profits limp along, operating far below their potential impact.​

Research shows that 80% of organisations perform better when they prioritise growing the health of their organisation. ‘Think about it for a moment,’ says Ian, ‘if you’re a vibrant organisation with teams that are united towards a common mission, a clear strategy and great leadership, a natural outflow will be an increase in performance.’

Higher engagement and productivity can result in many benefits. Funding is one such example. If an organisation approaches a donor for funding, and the donor experiences the organisation as one with a clear strategy, strong team dynamics, a healthy internal culture, and good governance, they are far more likely to see it as a good investment opportunity.

The challenges leaders face

If you’re a non-profit leader, chances are that you’ve shed some tears over the years. Leading is tough. Leaders get misunderstood, judged, hurt and exhausted. There is a need for revitalisation and a supportive community for non-profit leaders, especially because so many leaders are feeling isolated in their journey. Not only that, but they also have pressure from funders who want to see the numbers… the impact of the work on communities… and while this is well-intentioned, it often compels organisations to stretch their resources thin, potentially leading to unhealthy organisational environments.

Says Ian, ‘For us at Mergon there has been an increasing awareness of, and a focus on, the health of leaders and of organisations. We believe that healthy leaders leading healthy organisations have the most sustainable impact. We know that when an organisation is healthy the maximum energy can be focused outward on mission impact.’

Three core practices of healthy organisations

A few years ago, Mergon Foundation built the OSP Scan (Organisational Self-Perception Scan) as a tool to serve our partners. The question we asked is ‘What does a healthy organisation look like?’

After much research, we recognised three practices that healthy organisations do that help them to thrive, namely People Practices, Thinking Practices, and Governance Practices.

Building sustainable organisations - Mergon Foundation

‘The first thing you usually notice in a healthy organisation is a thriving team. There is great leadership and a clear mission, a sense that everyone is in it together,’ notes Ian.

‘In addition to having great people on your team, healthy organisations tend to have great strategy and clear thinking around where they want to go. If the team is strong, but your strategy and thinking are limited, your mission impact is going to be held back. On the other hand, if the strategy is clear but the team environment is toxic, you won’t achieve your impact potential, says Ian.’

He adds, ‘The third practice involves governance, which means using controls and measures to ensure accountability to all stakeholders for our decisions, to ensure we’re achieving our desired impact, and that we have external oversight enabling us to stay on track.’

When these three practices are strong, we see organisations start to thrive.

Nine core areas of healthy organisations

Ian explained that these three practices can be further divided into three core areas each, totalling nine in all.

People practices: Leadership, Mission & Vision and People, Teams & Values

Thinking practices: Communication & Identity, Funding & Strategy

Governance practices: Operations & Finance, Governance & Oversight and Impact Management

Hallmarks of healthy organisations

With these nine areas identified, the Mergon Foundation launched the OSP Scan. This tool has already guided 618 participants from 80 organisations through the process over the last three years, providing valuable data that enhances our ability to better address our partners’ needs moving forward.

The priority of growing healthy organisations

We conducted a survey of over 100 non-profit organisations from 21 different countries in Africa. We asked them to rate their current organisational health and how important growing a health organisation is for them. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with 94% saying that strengthening their organisation’s health is either growing in importance or already a work in progress.

We also asked what topics would be most helpful to the leaders for the growth of their organisations. Our survey found that developing a fundraising strategy, planning team capacity, and learning how to raise up great leaders were the top three areas, highlighting consistent needs across these organisations.

It is exciting to see that leaders of non-profit organisations are increasingly prioritising the growth of their people and organisational capability. As we gather data and understand the needs of leaders in a deeper way, we as funders can partner together to advance mission impact through healthy organisations.

Introducing FiftyFour

Now with a clearer view of their organisational strengths and areas requiring attention, leaders were left asking, ‘How do we take practically take the next step in growing our organisation’s health?’ Quite simply, ‘where to from here?’

As a team, we began imagining ways to support them in taking this critical next step on their journey. That’s when an idea of a learning platform started to emerge. We envisioned a place of connecting and learning from seasoned leaders and practitioners with specialist skills in a core area; people who, having gone before us, understand the challenges leaders face. It would be a space for practical equipping and capacity building, fostering a community of peers on a shared journey towards advancing their organisational health. It was in this collaborative vision that FiftyFour was born.

An online learning and capacity building platform, FiftyFour is designed to guide leaders towards growing healthy organisations that will have impact for generations to come. As a collaboration with the Mergon Foundation, MacClellan Foundation and 3W Foundation, the FiftyFour platform is currently undergoing substantial pilot testing and will be launching broadly to non-profit leaders in 2024.

Built to serve leaders to grow their organisations, the platform centres on four pillars: assessment tools, impactful courses, connection with other leaders, and data & research. These benefits provide leaders the opportunity to assess their needs, access applicable learning, learn from peers and understand data from their region that can inform their growth.

All this is free to leaders, wherever they may be around the world! Register and start your learning journey today at