I recently asked consultant Rebekah Burch Basinger about the origins of the phrase "Mission fulfillment with economic vitality." Basinger is a former In Trust Center board and staff member, and she led the In Trust Center's Good Governance seminars in the 1990s and 2000s.

Basinger replied: “The phrase emerged from the long-ago Good Governance Seminar series. It was a summary statement and shorthand version of Tony Ruger’s description of 'economic equilibrium' from his presentation on theological school finances." Anthony T. Ruger is a longtime consultant for theological schools; he was formerly senior research fellow at the Auburn Center for the Study of Theological Education.

For an explanation of Ruger’s concept of economic equilibrium, Basinger pointed to an interview in the fall 2010 issue of Colloquy, the newsletter of the Association of Theological Schools. "Ruger began using the concept early in his work with theological schools," said ATS chief financial officer Chris Meinzer in the interview, "and he credits Richard Cyert, former president of Carnegie Mellon University, as the one who developed the broad concept for nonprofit organizations."

Meinzer continued: "A school is deemed to be in equilibrium when (1) the organization fulfills its mission with adequate quality and quantity, (2) the organization maintains the purchasing power of its financial assets, and (3) the organization maintains needed facilities in satisfactory condition."

Basinger concluded: "Number 1 is 'mission fulfillment.' Numbers 2 and 3 are 'economic vitality.'"

A chapter in A Handbook for Seminary Presidents (Eerdmans, 2006) also mentions the phrase. In their chapter on "The President's Role in Governance," co-authors Robert Cooley, Christa Klein, and Louis Weeks explain the purposes of shared governance. They write: "Board members and institutional administrators can easily be distracted from the central mission of the seminary when they concentrate on finances and operations...The centrality of the educational mission then becomes the faculty’s fundamental focus...Through shared governance, this joint effort secures the twin bottom lines of institutional purpose: mission fulfilled with economic vitality" [page 42, emphasis added]. 

Co-author Christa Klein is the In Trust Center's president emerita and Robert E. Cooley was the In Trust Center's second board chair. Louis Weeks is president emeritus of Union Presbyterian Seminary.