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From category archives: In Trust Blog

Finance

Your school is likely at risk. What can your board do?

Higher education in North America – all higher education, not only theological education – is in trouble. How can your board be prepared? 

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What should your board be asking?

Reducing expenses, decreasing enrollment, increasing costs, and shrinking revenue. These are the current realities of higher education. Are your board members asking the right questions in response?

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Fundamental principles of enrollment management

Understanding enrollment and student retention is essential for any institution to thrive, but not knowing the basics of enrollment management is a common problem.

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Abandon your past to create your future

Robert S. Landrebe, who has just retired as senior vice president at Asbury Theological Seminary, offered advice for finding clarity in your school’s future in the Spring 2014 issue of In Trust. In his article titled “To create the future, selectively abandon the past,” Landrebe offers blunt but empathic advice to schools facing shrinking enrollment (in other words, most schools): “Let me describe theological education as an ‘industry.’ We are part of an industry that has a vital mission that serves the church. But, over the last decade, our student market has been in decline. During this decade we haven’t adjusted our expenses in response to a shrinking market. Rather, expenses have risen even faster than the consumer price index." 

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Four questions for your enrollment team

Enrollment is critical. You might have a wonderful vision, an outstanding strategic plan, and top-notch personnel in all the key spots – but without enough students, your school will struggle.

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Student enrollment by the numbers

If you are a leader in theological education, you are already familiar with overall trends in seminary enrollment. Usually, reports about enrollment are gloomy, with a half-hearted silver lining that suggests, “Well, at least we’re not the only ones struggling.”

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Resource roundup: Institutional financial health

The fiscal responsibilities of seminary boards, presidents, and administrators are vast and complex. And for those who want to maintain or improve their school’s financial health, it's sometimes hard to know where to start. Here are resources that may offer some guidance in tending to institutional financial health.

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The right school, the right time, and the right CFO

How does a school find the chief financial officer (CFO) it needs?

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Communicating hope amid disruption

The illustration and type on the cover of Fuller Seminary's magazine pretty much says it all. Rather than an evocative photographic portrait, as usually graces the cover, this one sports a photoshopped bird – gold and in flight – which forms the first “I” in the 200-point Century Bold italicized title that reads: DIS RUP TION.

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Difficult but necessary decisions

“The board has to insist on financial sustainability.” Lee Merritt, retired vice president for finance at Fuller Theological Seminary, sees this obligation as one of the most essential responsibilities of any school’s governing board.

 

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Sobering statistics, paths to the future

In the New Year 2014 issue of In Trust, Greg Henson and Gary Hoag provided data on charitable giving. Their conclusions, and their advice to schools, are still timely.

 

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Must you let people know that you're closing?

Every institution runs on confidence. Startups need investors to believe that their money won't be wasted. Banks need customers who trust that their savings won't be lost. Schools need students who are confident that the school will be around long enough for them to graduate. And the donors to these schools need to feel confident that their contributions are not being tossed into a black hole.

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How can a seminary react to financial stress?

Unanticipated financial setbacks sometimes become little deficits. And the response to little deficits can shape the course of a school’s future. What are the options? 

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Learning from the past: Schools that thrived during the lean years


In 2014, the Auburn Center for the Study of Theological Education published Through Toil and Tribulation: Financing Theological Education 2001-2011, an analysis by Anthony T. Ruger and Chris A. Meinzer of revenue and spending of theological schools during a period that encompassed the Great Recession as well as declining levels of formal religious affiliation. The fifth in a series of studies of revenue in theological education, this report told a tale of hard times and the ways in which some schools were able to strengthen their financial position in spite of a poor economy and changing religious environment, and it outlined best practices in the institutions and leaders who saw improvements during these years.

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Seminaries struggle to build community with affordable dining services

 

Declining enrollment and increasing numbers of distance education and off-campus students are making the economics of providing food increasingly unsustainable for theological schools. Yet everyone agrees that shared meals build community. What's a seminary to do?

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New Year 2018 issue is now available


The New Year 2018 issue of In Trust magazine was recently mailed and is now available to read online.

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Small religious colleges are struggling



A recent Religion News Service article chronicles the struggles of small religious colleges, saying that lacking substantial endowments, many are teetering on a financial cliff.

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When do you declare a state of emergency?

What is "financial exigency"? This is one of those phrases a board would rather avoid, even when declaring financial exigency is the responsible next step for a school in trouble. 

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Financial woes across the pond


The Church Times, a London-based Anglican newspaper, recently published an article about the apparent financial crisis facing Anglican theological education in the United Kingdom.

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A case study in mission-driven publishing

 

For seminaries, coming up with sustainable revenue-generating ventures is often imperative. But schools must consider whether those venture support their mission and values.

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Board members talk finances



In August 2009, In Trust emailed more than 1,800 board members (excluding board chairs) with a short survey on school finances. Of the board members contacted, 293 responded. In a summer 2010 article, Mary Catherine Bolster shared responses to this survey and offered her insights about what these responses said about the role of the board in financial matters. 

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Tips for ensuring the show goes on, despite a smaller cast of characters




The North American nonprofit sector is no stranger to getting by on less. But these days less is edging toward subsistence, with budgets and personnel close to the breaking point. What’s a leadership team to do when the show must go on but with a smaller cast of characters to cover all the roles? Create a plan.

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Who understands your school’s financial statements?



Who understands your school's finances? The answer should not be "just the CFO." Or even just the CFO, the president, and the finance committee chair. Ideally all board members and senior administrators should have a solid understanding of a school's finances -- and perhaps the faculty and staff as well. 

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Where did the phrase “Mission fulfillment with economic vitality” come from?




We recently asked consultant Rebekah Burch Basinger about the origins of the phrase "Mission fulfillment with economic vitality." She explained that it's a summary statement about economic equilibrium.

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Calculating the "public value" of your school


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. A few years ago, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary 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.

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