Sometimes a theological school must communicate its worth to a larger community -- perhaps as part of an outreach effort or in an appeal to donors. In these instances, it’s helpful for school leadership to make the case for the institution's value to the community.
In a 2010 In Trust article, Matt Forster highlights one school, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which conducted an economic impact study and was subsequently able to quantify its value after local residents expressed concern that the seminary was not giving enough to the community. In addition to actual dollar amounts given, the seminary also calculated the value of residents employed by the school, hours volunteered, and benefits not easily quantified, such as diversity. As a result, not only was the school able to communicate its worth, but they also developed stronger town-gown relationships.
Gordon-Conwell's experience demonstrates the necessity for theological schools to know their worth to their communities. Research from the Auburn Center for the Study of Theological Education indicates that many communities are not familiar with their local seminaries or the value they bring. In response, some seminaries are taking steps to make their presence and value to their communities known. Forster mentions St. Mary’s Seminary & University, which opened their Ecumenical Institute of Theology in order to educate lay people of any denomination, as well as Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, which converted unused dorm space into housing for hospital patients and families.
Whatever your school’s outreach efforts to your local community, knowing what you’re worth is essential. One possible tool for doing this is the Public Value Tool created by Partners for Sacred Places, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that helps historic places of worship. This tool calculates a monetary value for things such as hours worked by volunteers and meeting space used by community groups. Using this or a similar tool can be useful in situations where you need to convey your school’s worth.
Read more on the Public Value Tool and Partners for Sacred Places; contact them directly for more information.
If you're affiliated with one of the In Trust Center's member schools or organizations, read the full text of Matt Forster’s article on public value (login required; the link will show you how).