Are you building a street-side food stand or a skyscraper? Trying to get neighbors together to reach the kids in your neighborhood or twenty ministries to reach a major people group? Do you need dues, membership fees, or can you realize the dream on voluntary contributions? This paper helps you take the simplest and most direct route — which is usually the most effective.
I once sat with a leader of a large denominational missions program as we talked about ministry operations. I’ll never forget his comments, “You know, in thirty years I’ve never had anything but frustration when folks want to start by first talking about money or about how they’re going to organize themselves! Even worse, if they want to start by writing a theological statement that they want everybody to sign! Unless there’s a compelling reason that’s brought folks together,” he added, “there’s really nothing to talk about.”
Here was someone who had worked his whole life inside one, large organization with a rather uniform “corporate culture,” theological views, an organization that is blessed with major resources. It was striking to me that he should have had the same experience I’d had working with organizations of all sizes and backgrounds in collaborative efforts of very different kinds all over the world.
It was a classic, real-world affirmation that three issues are going to challenge every ministry – particularly one that is collaborative in nature; how we pay for it, how we organize it, and what’s our theological basis.
This paper’s about the first – money.
Partnership In Practice
The group of 30+ leaders from over twenty ministries had been working for two days on their new partnership’s priorities and action steps. One of the ministries had agreed to loan a person full time to facilitate the new partnership’s vision. Even though he was going to take off his own organization’s “hat,” he would come with his support provided. Working with the new partnership’s steering committee, a modest budget was developed for expected administrative and out of pocket costs. But, modest though it was in comparison with the importance of the task, the budget still totaled nearly $15,000USD. His own ministry was glad to loan him to the project but considered that was their contribution to the cause. Now, before winding up the meeting and heading home, the group was talking and praying about how to generate the $15,000? After a few minutes one of the leaders said, “I know this may sound crazy, but how about this approach? Each of us knows what our ministry’s capacity. Let’s just each take a piece of paper. Then, let’s take some time to pray, silently, asking God for guidance for each of our ministries as to how much of this $15,000 budget we think our organization could contribute. Keep it strictly confidential. We’ll fold up the papers once we’ve written down what we think God’s said to us. Then, Zach, our facilitator, can total up the numbers and let us all know where we are.” People in the room agreed they had never been asked to help meet a budget quite that way before! But, they agreed on the approach. When the prayers were finished, the folded papers handed in with a real sense of anticipation in the room. When the totals were done, they were $23.00 short of the $15,000! $14,777 had been committed! Some had committed significant amounts, others very modest ones. But, together, they sang a song of praise as they concluded. And, for the next five years, that partnership met all its central administrative costs exactly the same way. Even though partner ministries changed and their budget grew, every year the outcomes were almost exactly the same as that first time.
You may think that was a rather strange approach! But, it was real people — many with well-established ministries. The story illustrates several things about the issues we will face in collaborative efforts. There was a steering committee that reflected the makeup of the wider group, provided a reference point and counsel for Zach, the recently identified facilitator. They didn’t have a president or chairman but were operating in an environment of decision-making by consensus, not based on some voting formula. They had leadership, to be sure. Clearly they had started with their vision and what they wanted to do. That was the compelling thing driving them forward. And, in the context of that vision, they had worked out an informal administrative structure that everyone felt comfortable with. It was enough structure to do what they wanted to do. While it was obvious that they needed to cover costs that would serve the common good, or, the wider partnership’s operations, they had not sorted out where that money would come from! Far from starting with organizational structure and money issues, they had focused on their vision. Fired by that vision and their potential together, the other elements began to fall in place.
The Main Principles
Networks and partnerships don’t come free.
Collaboration costs. And the more complex or expansive the vision the more it’s likely to cost. That may be in people, donated time, resources, or facilities, influence or money. But it will cost. And a good time to think about that is early in the process.
Resources follow vision.
The clearer, more compelling the vision, more clearly or understandably told the better. A clear, compelling vision must be evident. In plain, simple language participants in your network or partnership need to agree the vision is something really worth doing. They may be operational partners, participating churches, or funders.
Resources always follow perceived value.
Vision has to lead to real, tangible, high-value outcomes that are evident to all involved. Value for the Kingdom and God’s work in the world. And, value for each of the participating ministry. If I can’t see the clear alignment between my ministry and the partnership or network’s vision and plans – why should I be involved – take my time, invest financial resources, or encourage others to do so?
A specific the vision increases the likelihood of support.
Specificity (what, when, how, who) of your vision has a major impact on your ability to raise the resources needed. It allows possible investors–whether it is their time, money, or influence –to see clear alignment with their own purposes.
Money — Empowering or Disabling?
Network and partnerships generally need money for two things; the costs of communicating with and facilitating the network or partnership itself, and, projects the network ir partnership may undertake. This is simply stated but not always simply realized.
The money question can be another point in the life of your network or partnership that energizes the group and helps the participants see they can do things together they could never do separately. Or, it can be seen as a convenient roadblock — another opportunity for the “I don’t see how this is going to work” mantra. How you approach the topic can make all the difference.
A Key Network or partnership Principle:
- Working together in effective networks or partnerships creates a world where you learn new ways of doing things! Imagining outcomes beyond our own capacity. Sharing the load with other ministries instead of just doing what we can do alone. Making decisions involving people who may share your vision but not your history or organizational culture. And, together, creatively dealing with the funding the joint effort requires. Seeing these as opportunities rather than roadblocks can transform your collective spirit and the success of your outcomes!
Let’s unpack the money question. What are the main costs involved in a network or partnership or network that will have some kind of on-going life? Here are the typical main categories:
Facilitation Costs. Someone has to serve the whole group. This may be a single individual, or it may be a small, dedicated team that plays various specific roles. If the initiative has an individual who plays that “prophet and servant” role of facilitator, he or she has to be supported financially. How does that work? Here are some of the typical models —
- The person is loaned to the network or partnership by an agency or ministry that is committed to both the vision of the outcomes and the process of network or partnership. They understand the critical nature of having this sort of person serve as the glue, helping the group stay focused and in effective relationship. This may be an open-ended commitment. Or, it may be for a specific term, sometimes at the outset it is a type of trial arrangement for a year or two.
Note: Continuity of leadership is vital — both in facilitation and in the general oversight of the network or partnership’s vision and work together. It is the kind of role a facilitator, often working with steering committee or leadership team plays.
- There have been cases of an outside, third party, committed to the vision of collaboration, provides funds to cover the facilitator’s role. They know that their investment is likely to be multiplied many times over as the network or partnership becomes effective in reducing duplication, increasing effectiveness, encouraging new, creative initiatives.
- As a network or partnership grows to such size and complexity that the need for full-time facilitation is recognized by everyone they then must be prepared to fund that role, along with its associated administrative costs. The leadership team must then develop a budget to cover these costs and how all will share in the costs — equally or by some other agreed-on formula as in the example given above.
- Members of the network or partnership can participate in non-cash, “in-kind” ways by giving office space, allocating secretarial or administrative support staff, providing bookkeeping, mailing, computer services, etc. In this way they help the whole group by supporting the facilitation effort.
Administrative Costs. There are out of pocket costs needed to cover a wide range of issues in a network or partnership initiative. Travel for the facilitator, communications costs, office space and equipment, supplies, etc. As they say, it all adds up. For a pro-active facilitator giving serious, regular attention to the participants and how well they and the overall network or partnership is doing, these costs add up. How does a network or partnership or network meet these costs? There are several options — or, possibly combinations of these.
Occasionally a facilitator is able to fund their own out of pocket or general expenses. Those may be provided by their home agency or built into some type of personal support system under which they operate. It’s rare, but it does happen.
Keep in mind: We all tend to value those things which clearly enhance our lives and ministries. The more essential the value, the higher its priority for us. It’s very basic, but it’s the vision and related operational or administrative elements that are the engine driving networks or partnerships.
As a network or partnership emerges, like the story cited above, the group sees both the need and the value for the services helping them work together effectively. Through voluntary commitments, participant’s assessments, or some other agreed formula the group funds those essential costs. This means, of course, that a group like the leadership team or a finance working group needs to develop an appropriate budget they can recommend to the wider network or partnership. Those recommendations need to include not only details of the cost, but ideas of how will those costs be shared. More formally structured coalitions frequently have well-defined dues or membership fees — often based on size of budget of the member agency or some other mutually agreed formula.
Meeting & Conference Costs. Any discussion about network or partnership finances or organization is much like asking about how long is a piece of string! There have to be some very specific definitions of what kind of string, for what purpose, etc. The same is true in partnerships and networks.
- Early developmental meeting costs are usually covered out of each agency or participant’s own budgets — the people or ministries most interested. Occasionally there will be a third party, a foundation, donor, or other institution for whom the idea of collaboration is a priority and, as a result, is willing to help provide “start-up” funding. Frequently, right through the “exploration” and “formation” phases, funding is often very decentralized and ad hoc. If there are facilities costs in these meetings, they are typically shared on some kind of equitable basis — with lodging or food costs being paid on some kind of direct basis by the participants.
- Once a network or partnership’s underway, the facilitation or leadership team need to develop an approach to funding the group’s meetings that suits the group. Small committee or working meetings are usually covered by the participants. Administrative costs of larger meetings, particularly ones that require advance work, printing or materials, special, larger-scale communications, on-site costs, etc. are usually covered by some type of registration fee. Any costs associated with food and lodging are normally broken out and paid separately by the participants — many times directly to the hotel or conference facility. Many network or partnerships have participants they want to be at the meetings but that can’t afford the costs. So, an agreed amount is built into the general registration or meeting costs which, in effect, can be used as a subsidy for those who cannot afford to attend otherwise.
Network or partnership In Practice
For several months the exploration team had worked to identify Christian agencies that seemed to be key to dealing with homeless people and unemployment in the city. Out of the dozen or so agencies they identified, four of them were running valuable programs but had virtually no funds. It was agreed that everyone needed to meet, pray, and talk about the city’s situation and how these agencies plus the local churches might respond to the challenge. They felt they needed about a day and a half to work through the issues — starting at noon the first day and working to late afternoon the following one. They knew that they needed to focus and get away from distractions — like office phones, appointments, etc. So a decision was made to use a retreat facility about 25 miles from the city. Now the challenge was that the four small budget agencies just couldn’t afford to send even two of their team members, even though the cost of the retreat was modest. When the other ministries heard this, they felt it was so vital to have all the agencies present, they agreed to each invest in a little extra and underwrite the less affluent ministries participation.
Project Costs. A classic pattern for networks or partnerships is that they develop ideas that are only possible because they’re working together. These projects frequently require new or specially-allocated resources — time, personnel, facilities, and money. One of the great experiences in Kingdom collaboration is getting an idea that is “bigger than any of us,” then finding a way, together, to resource it and make it happen.
What are the typical approaches to this challenge?
- Often projects can be widely owned and the different ministries contribute different key elements from their own resources. In other words, the project can be resourced from within the network or partnership.
- Some projects are of such a scale that participating agencies agree to go back to their respective organizations and request that this collaborative project become a fund raising priority for their agency. By each agency actively working with their contacts they can fund the project they want to do together. A helpful variation on this approach is where, collectively, the participating ministries develop a common set of materials or write a proposal they can all use in their fund raising. It keeps the story consistent and makes it easier for the individual ministry to present the project.
- Another approach is for the ministries in the network or partnership or network to agree on a project purpose and plan, then, develop a joint project proposal or presentation. On behalf of the whole group, they present the project for funding to an outside source — a church, denomination, foundation, or other funding resource.
Network or partnership In Practice
A partnership of ten ministries was working in a non-Western country with a small, but growing, nationally led church. The lay leaders of the emerging local church asked the partnership for training in how to develop small, appropriate businesses that could help support the families and, in turn, the life and health of the new churches. The partnership connected with a ministry outside the country that had a good track record in helping develop small businesses and who also expressed an interest in this project. After considerable work and planning between the local church leaders, the specialized resource agency, and the partnership, a plan was agreed. It would spread over several months and involve local leaders traveling to the capital at least four times and the resource group traveling to five regional districts at least three times. They agreed that the projected cost for the first year would come to nearly $12,000.00USD. While praying and talking together about how to cover this cost two of the partner agencies identified large churches they knew that had an interest in the region. The group broke down the budget based on how much it would cost, on average, for each of the nationals that were to be trained. With nearly 20 potential national participants, that cost came to approximately $600 each. It was agreed that the nationals should contribute something to increase their sense of ownership and commitment to the training. However, working together, th partnership developed a proposal for “scholarships” and asked each of the two major churches to prayerfully consider ten of these scholarships. Eventually, three churches got involved — two of which even sent small teams from their churches to meet the national leaders, sit in on the training programs, and report back to their churches. Again, pulling together made something possible that, separately, would have been unattainable.
- So money is a core issue. People seem to get nervous and edgy when money is part of the conversation or agenda. It’s caused far more trouble in partnerships and networks than many other elements that, in the end, are probably more important. But, money issues will not go away. Better that you and your team actively work to make the money issue a good experience rather than what everyone expects — a bad experience! Thinking creatively, praying together, trusting God to do good things in people’s hearts, and putting the money issues in their proper perspective will go a long way.
A final thought on money. Does God want His people to work together? If we are in God’s will do we think He will meet our needs — particularly when the initiative we’re working on seeks to point people to Jesus? So, here’s a great opportunity to see Him in our midst, confirming what He’s put in our hearts to do!