Presented at the February 2004 Conference of the Development and Instititional Advancement Program (DIAP) by Daniel Aleshire, The Association of Theological Schools
We are gathered in an historic city, and the theme of the meeting is "making history together." I am not sure what that means. I have come to know several of you pretty well, and "making history" is a relatively scary idea. I am confident that you could do it, I just don't look forward to explaining it to people. I explored a little history myself in thinking about this talk. I have been coming to DIAP meetings for six years now, as executive director of ATS, and have participated in six September workshops. In almost all of them, I have been asked to give a speech, conduct a workshop, or convene a question and answer session. I looked over my talks for these many gatherings and, as best I can tell, I have now said about six times more than I know about development work. There are some themes that are apparent from those previous talks and, in the interest of making history, I want to share some general reflections about theological schools and the work of institutional advancement. Everything I have to say is grounded in a conviction about the work of presidents and development officers, and I want to share that conviction and then share my observations.
I have had conversations with prospective presidents of ATS schools. Each of these conversations goes something like this: we talk about the school, the presidency, and whether I think this is a good match of school and candidate. We talk about the work, as I see it from my role at ATS, and the school. In the course of the conversation, I say the president's work at this school will primarily be nurturing a constituency and raising money. We talk some more, discuss the school's many contributions, its unique problems, and I will say again, "the primary job of the next president of this school will be nurturing a constituency and raising money." We talk a little longer, and focus on the opportunities the presidency might provide for the candidate, and I say :"whether or not you want to remain on the list of candidates depends on how much you want to nurture the school's constituency and raise money."
I don't get many calls from prospective development officers because they don't seem to cross my path before they show up in the schools, but from what I can tell, development work in theological education requires two deep and pervasive characteristics in development officers. The first is a commitment to theological education, with a clear sense of why it is important, and a convincing perspective about the value of theological education for communities of faith. The second is skill and knowledge about the technology that effective development work requires. My experience is that development officers tend to come to theological education from one of two backgrounds. Either they are development professionals who have come newly to theological education or they are church or seminary professionals that have come newly to development work. Each year, this meeting has about 25% first time attendees, which says something about the turnover in this work The people who succeed over the long term in seminary development are the people who develop both sides of their job identity.
So, with this conviction about your work, I want to talk with you about institutional advancement in theological schools. I have said some of this before, but since I do not speak in a way that readily excites memory, I am not worried that any of this will sound familiar. Here's the history I propose to make tonight. I will try to say something worth remembering, and you remember it! Either would be a first; both would be more a miracle than history. I want to make six observations, so the first thing you need to remember is "six."
1. The old way in which US and Canadian theological schools derived their income have dissipated, and it's not going to come back. Most schools derived most of their money from denominations, and denominations are not going to vote anytime soon to return to the levels of funding that they had in the 1950s and 1960s. Schools need to develop new patterns of funding.
To deal with this change, I think ATS schools, particularly Protestant schools, have found additional money in two ways across the past twenty-five years. The first involved adding new degree programs and taking more seriously the income that could be generated form tuition, particularly tuition provided by degree programs other than the M.Div. Many schools also established new sites or campuses that extended the reach of existing degree programs to new markets. The second way in which seminaries derived new income was by riding one of the most, if not the most, dramatic and extended rise in the stock market that has ever occurred in the US. If schools were spending prudentially at five percent of their endowment's value between 1990 and 2000, and were reasonably positioned in equity holdings, they would have doubled or tripled the value of their endowments even if no new money were added. While this was not the case with many schools, the number of ATS schools that had new operating money simply because of the increase of endowment values is substantial. The market has demonstrated that what it gives it can take away, and schools heavily dependent on endowment income have found themselves constricting budgets, not expanding them. There has been sufficient recovery, however, that schools are ahead of where they were a decade ago, if not three years ago.
As we continue to move into this first decade of the new century, my hunch is that neither of these income generators of the past twenty years will be income generators for the next twenty. I don't think that we can expect the kind of stock value increase over the next twenty years that occurred in the past ten. Neither do I think that most ATS schools will be as successful at identifying new degree products in the next twenty years as they have been in the past twenty years. For the most part, while enrollment slowly grows in ATS schools, it is not likely to grow sufficiently fast that schools will experience perceptible gains in tuition revenue.So, where is the money going to come from if not the denominations, if not new degrees or locations or students, if not as a function of market growth?
It will come, as it already is, from individuals who have resources, who care about their church, and who want to ensure the quality of ministerial and priestly leadership in the future. The primary source of gifts in the future will continue to be individuals, and a few congregations that have a kinship with a particular seminary or to theological education in general. However, as pressure on congregational money increases and congregations are faced with a choice between funding increased expense for medical coverage for its staff or continued contribution to a seminary operating budget, medical coverage will win every time. So, in the final analysis, the money will come from individuals, and it will come from individuals who have a reason to be loyal to an institution. Remember the word " individuals;" they give far more money to charitable causes than foundations or any other source of gifts. Individual givers, individual gifts, individuals for whom God invented the gospel.
2. These significant changes in the revenue structure of ATS schools require the development of a culture of realism about funding. The money is not going to come from the denominations, so there is no use complaining about the fact that it is not coming from denominations. The money, at least not the amount that is needed, is not going to come from tuition. We are already worried about the student educational debt, which is directly related to tuition revenue. Soon-to-be-released results of a ten-year follow up study of student debt by the Auburn Center for the Study of Theological Education indicate that more students are graduating with seminary educational debt, and that the average amount of debt has doubled in the past decade. The money, for the most part, will not come from tuition. The market does not always go up, so it will not come from the growth of endowments. The money is going to come from new gifts from individuals, and seminaries need to be realistic about their primary funding base.
A culture of realism also requires a change in the deep narrative about the kind of work to which senior leaders in seminaries need to give their energy. Some presidents think of development as a diversion from their real tasks rather than the heart of their real tasks. One ATS president resigned a few years ago, in part because he had come to realize that his responsible work for the school was fundraising, and that was not his best gift or calling in ministry. I think faithfulness in presidential work-guided, supported, and complemented by effective professional staff in development-is not possible apart from being at peace with the need to cultivate a constituency, and when the need and moment are right, ask for their gifts. This is the real job. It needs to be a major allocation of the president's time. Remember, presidents need to raise money and they depend on you to help them do that job.
3. Because most money will come from individual donors, ATS seminaries will need to enhance their capacity to make a compelling case for theological education. The case for theological education has been called into question in many ways with different constituencies of ATS schools. Evangelicals look at successful new paradigm churches and note that their leaders did not learn what they know in seminaries. Mainline Protestants are dealing with membership decline by creating ways for clergy to be credentialed alternatively in which they do not need a seminary education. Roman Catholics, while holding tenaciously to seminary for the ministerial priesthood, are not so inclined for thousands of lay professionals who are being employed by parishes to do what priests and religious were doing forty years ago. In all three of these major contexts, there is a serious question about and, at times, active disregard for seminary education.
The case for theological education will need to be made by the schools themselves and not by communications and development officers, but since you are here, let me tell you what I think the case will require. Theological education needs to make its case by engaging in the educational and institutional efforts that will demonstrate that theological education adds value, meets needs, and makes a difference in the lives of communities of faith. Theological schools cannot hold back the forces that are asking the question about the value of theological education, but they can educate their students in ways that ordinary people recognize the difference a seminary education makes and, out of that recognition, wish that it were possible for every religious leader to have a seminary degree.
Development officers need to make the case for theological education with enthusiasm, with integrity, and with some intellectual imagination. They will not, however, be able to make up a case for theological education. Theological schools must become their own best case. This case, it its best form, is not as obvious as the case for a cure for the sick or feeding the hungry. It does not make itself known to potential donors, so it requires thoughtful work and development officers who are deeply and personally committed to it. Remember, seminaries have to be the case and you have to make it to donors.
4. Schools need the technology of institutional advancement and they depend on your professional expertise for this technology. There are good and not so good ways to run an annual campaign, or capital campaign. There is an expertise necessary to raise deferred gifts. Professionalism in seminary development requires you to know which of the many development strategies are appropriate and effective for theological schools and, in particular, for your school and its constituency. ATS schools vary significantly from each other. There are schools that only recently have given themselves permission to have an endowment-a move away from the conviction that endowment inevitably distances a school from the constituency or convictions that it was brought into existence to serve. There are schools that receive more than eighty percent of their operating revenue from endowment. There are still a few schools that receive more than eighty percent of their operating budget from a denomination, and other schools that receive more than fifty percent of their operating budget from the annual fund or current giving programs. These differences in revenue streams do not merely reflect different development strategies; they reflect different theological convictions, different degrees of connection with different kinds of constituencies, and different institutional histories. These revenue patterns are different for reasons other than technology, but each requires a technology to be effective. Remember, development officers need to bring professional expertise to the school's development program.
5. Presidents and development officers need to nurture the discipline of asking for money at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way. In my judgment, this discipline of asking is at its root, a spiritual discipline. I have not needed to be the kind of fundraiser you are needing to be, and my comment may be both untutored and unfair, but I don't think one can be effective at nurturing relationships as a means of cultivating donors for theological education without treating this effort as if it were a spiritual discipline. The temptation, on the one hand, is to nurture relationships in a way that manipulates individuals for the sake of their potential gifts. That is unchristian. The temptation, on the other hand, is to nurture the relationship so that the president or development officer has a new set of interesting and wealthy friends, but they never help their new friends benefit the school to the extent that they are able. The only way to avoid these two temptations is to treat this work as work that grows out of one's spirituality. Remember, asking for money is a spiritual task, not a material one.
6. You work at the wealthiest theological schools in the world. It probably doesn't feel that way, but you do. Wealth is always relative and when you look at institutions focused on education of church leaders, none of them in the rest of the world have wealth that compares to what we have in the United States and Canada. However much wealth our schools have, it is not as much as needed to do the work well. Theological schools look pretty poor compared to other segments of higher education in the United States and Canada. The schools need more money-that is why you have been asked to assume the responsibilities you have recently undertaken. However, the mission of a theological school is not to be wealthy. It is to educate, research, and serve the church and the broader public. This means that development work is always about the relationship of money and mission. Your task is to find and guide the acquisition of wealth that will best serve the school's mission for the longest period of time, as these schools will need more money next year than they need this year. The expense budgets of ATS schools doubled in the decade from 1991-2001. It is not completely clear to me why they doubled, but I am sure that more money is going to be required in the future to do theological education well. Our choice is to do it poorly, which is always cheaper, or to do it well, which requires imagination, money, and talent. Remember, money is about mission.
The Apostle Paul had some good instincts about fundraising. He wasn't afraid to ask, "Now as you excel in everything-in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you-so we want you to excel in this generous undertaking (with reference to the offering that Titus was in the process of receiving) [Gal 8:7]; and he had a sense of the mutuality of Christian philanthropy, "it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance (he says to the givers) and their need, so that their abundance ( the receivers) may be for your need" (the givers')" [Gal. 8:14]. While this may not be the kind of sparkly language with which a talk like this should close, Paul's words voice the spirit of our work. Theological schools have serious financial needs and as those needs are met, they develop an abundance that communities of faith desperately need.