From category archives: In Trust Blog

Money & Mission

Requiem for the bookstore

This month, the Cokesbury bookstore at Lancaster Theological Seminary closed its doors for good. In fact, this wasn't the seminary's decision -- all the Cokesbury stores are closing, if they haven't already done so. As someone who deeply appreciates what goes into building and managing a finely curated collection of books -- a difficult task when the best of your collection regularly walks out the door, never to be seen until you re-order -- hearing that another store has closed grieves me.




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Moody’s issues glum forecast for education sector

On January 16, 2013, Moody’s Investor’s Service, the bond credit rating business, issued a “negative short-term outlook” for the entire sector of higher education. The bleak forecast for the next 12-18 months includes all forms of higher education, including community colleges and top-tier research universities.

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Does your development director want to quit?

Fundraising jobs can be hard to fill. Staff in this area often turn over at a high rate, and chief executives frequently express frustration at a lack of growth in fundraising.

Chaos in development staffing is highlighted by a recent study by CompassPoint, which says that half of development directors expect to leave their current jobs in two years or less and a quarter of CEOs fired their last development director. But the problem may lie with the CEO or the board, not the development officer.

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It’s seldom one or the other -- it's both

Either/or thinking drives me crazy, which helps explain my frequent dissents into madness (professionally speaking). Almost weekly, an exhausted executive director, overwhelmed development staffer, or out-of-breath board member gives me that “deer in the headlights” look when I suggest that the organization try walking and chewing gum simultaneously (metaphorically speaking).

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Answers to questions about boards and fundraising

Whenever two or three nonprofit executives gather together, fundraising and board members are sure to come up. And based on conversations to which I've been privy, there's not a lot of bragging going on. In fact, most of the nonprofit leaders with whom I work assume that every other board in town (the nation, maybe even the world) is more engaged than theirs -- but without solid facts on which to base the assumption.

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More discussion of student debt

Back in 2005, the Auburn Institute published a timely report, “The Gathering Storm: The Educational Debt of Theological Students.” The warning was clear: As the cost of education increases, more students come to graduate school with undergraduate debt, and they add to that burden throughout their time at seminary, graduating with more debt than someone with a clergy salary can afford. Simple math.

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Research reveals information on "millennial" donors, volunteers

New research sheds light on the nonprofit giving habits of young people ages 20 to 35: They seek information on their smartphones (but not exclusively); they're more likely to donate if they volunteer first; they're very interested in leadership (but most haven’t been asked to lead).

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Student loan forgiveness for employees of religious nonprofits? Maybe

In January, the U.S. Department of Education released new rules on "loan forgiveness for public service employees."

Some seminarians have borrowed money under the assumption that working in a parish setting or chaplaincy would make them eligible for student loan forgiveness under the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007, but the new rules say no.

"Your employment at a non-profit organization does not qualify if your job duties are related to religious instruction, worship services, or any form of proselytizing," the new rules say.

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Five 90-second videos on fundraising


Recently we discovered some free online resources provided by the consulting firm Johnson Grossnickle and Associates

The highlights are five videos, each 90 seconds long, on various fundraising topics:

  1. The trustee's role in fundraising
  2. What to look for in a feasability study
  3. Building trust with donors
  4. Creating a millennial donor strategy
  5. Women and philanthropy


Each video is accompanied by a PDF "tip sheet" that could be distributed in a board packet. And it might be appropriate to show one the videos themselves in a board meeting -- for example, to kick off a discussion of an upcoming capital campaign.

The videos are appealingly simple, and they raise the questions that boards and administrators must address if they are planning a major fundraising initiative.

Watch them here.

Beyond Borders (part 2): Box store vs. Bookseller

Read Part 1 of this post. The bankrupt Borders stores tried to be a one-stop shop for books, magazines, music, movies, and related paraphernalia -- remember the "Itty-Bitty Book Light"? But in an increasingly digital age, consumers can compare prices instantly on their smart phones and select the brightness of their books' pages on their Kindle or iPad. Unfortunately, many theological schools assume that they're falling short of their mission if they don't try to provide a Borders-like experience: a comprehensive approach to theological and ministerial education that provides everything to everyone. But North American theological education diverges from the Borders example in at least one significant way: its mission is to serve -- not profit from -- church and society. Theological schools exist not for their own sake but rather in service to a larger mission. Our schools are all playing on the same team, striving toward a broad and common goal of educating effective mi ...
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Beyond Borders (part 1): Lessons from a megachain's demise

The closing of Borders bookstores has drawn responses from a variety of sectors. One seminary professor even wrote a theological reflection on the news. Without a doubt, Borders was an American fixture for nearly two decades, and its downfall has important lessons for organizations in the midst of large-scale shifts in their markets. A few observations are noteworthy: One news report suggests that the fall of Borders is an opportunity for small independent stores, which can focus on special niches or cater to particular communities. The lesson is simple: a one-size-fits-all approach may, in fact, serve no organization very well. One college dean suggests Borders failed because it was not distinctive enough and did not align its core competencies to a changing marketplace. He fears many middle-of-the-road private colleges are headed down this same path. Another observer offers three concise lessons: (1) The middle is a bad place to be. (2) Technology is not always the answer. (3) Disruption can b ...
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Six myths about the proposal to limit charitable deductibility

Have you heard about President Barack Obama's proposal to limit the amount the deductibility of charitable gifts for high-income donors? Many observers fear that by reducing the incentive for wealthy people to give, the nonprofit sector will suffer. The Nonprofit Quarterly has published a helpful article that tries to separate fact from hysteria. It identifies the following as "myths" that are circulating about the president's proposal: The president is aiming only at charitable deductions. The cap will affect all charitable donors. Charitable giving will be slammed. Charitable deductions have never been capped before. All of charity will lose. This is the wrong signal at the wrong time. On page 20 of the Spring 2011 issue of In Trust, Washington attorney Marcus Owens told writer Dorothy Ridings that he believes the full charitable deduction is safe for now, since the divided Congress is unlikely to agree on any plan -- especially one that would raise revenue but mi ...
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Keeping your school in alignment

Over at the Call and Response Blog, a young mainline pastor is getting honest about the professional world into which she recently graduated. In a post called "Younger Clergy and the New Economic Normal," Amy Thompson Sevimli outlines the economic and demographic realities facing the mainline church, telling of a generation of older ministers who are hanging on to fewer and fewer full-time pastorates, while seminaries produce ever more young people expecting to enter the pulpit with the pay and pension of their predecessors. "[W]hat should younger clergy do, since most of us have already paid for at least eight years of schooling and don't have a second set of skills to fall back on?" she asks. "The model for ministry which we have long assumed is no longer the model of the future." Or, as a headline for another article says, "Too Many Pastors, Not Enough Work." The changing nature of the pastorate is evident everywhere we look, and not only in mainline denominations. For many small congregations (wheth ...
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Is the bubble about to burst? (Part 2)

Read Part 1 of this post.

Is theological education in the bubble, too?

Few doubt that higher education is on the verge -- or in the midst -- of a sector-wide shift. Some are likening the current situation to the housing and lending bubbles that recently "burst" (as we discussed in Part 1). But does the threat extend to theological education, with its unique purposes, constituencies, and outcomes?

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Is the bubble about to burst? (Part 1)

We've heard a lot in recent years about bursting bubbles in the financial and housing sectors. Now the analogy is creeping into higher education. In a stark opinion piece published earlier this month in the Washington Examiner, University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds declares that the higher education bubble is about to burst. "The product grows more and more elaborate, and more and more expensive," he explains, "but the expense is offset by cheap credit provided by sellers eager to encourage buyers to buy." Remember, he's talking about college degrees, not houses. So if there's an educational bubble, what's inflating it? The primary cause: skyrocketing costs. Inside Higher Ed reports that private colleges are increasing tuition this fall by an average 4.5 percent, which is extremely modest compared to a 10-year prerecession average of 6 percent per year. (To be fair, student aid is also increasing in these institutions, which isn't always the case in other sectors of higher ...
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Is your seminary stressed?

On airport bookshelves across North America, the "turnaround" is quickly becoming the next hot topic in popular business and management reading. A turnaround is what happens when, thanks to insightful leadership and organizational acumen, an organization's downward trajectory is reversed -- in spite of all countervailing odds.  A recent addition to the genre is titled Turnaround: Leading Stressed Colleges and Universities to Excellence, and it's written for educational leaders by educational leaders. Overall, the book is a collection of essays that provide helpful guidance for those in the midst of organizational turmoil and/or turnaround. The first chapter is particularly insightful. In "Defining Stressed Institutions and Leading Them Effectively," the authors briefly describe the major contributing factors in the current climate of institutional stability (such as "churning presidents," the changing demands of students, and the commodification of higher education in general). The chapter then offer ...
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