Why don't the presidents of theological schools embrace fundraising? Instead, we deny its importance, shuffle it off to others, or claim that it's not our gift. We ask, "Did I spend years working on a Ph.D. so I could sit on a golf cart asking for money?"
Yes, you did. And it was worth it.
The prophet Jeremiah warned people about idols: "Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field are they," he said. "They must be carried, because they cannot walk! Do not fear them, for they can do no harm, nor can they do any good" (Jeremiah 10:5).
Scarecrows keep birds from raiding a garden. But for some presidents, fundraising is a scarecrow, spooking and preventing them from enjoying the fruits of God's harvest.
I say, ignore the scarecrow. Years of study and teaching are exactly what have prepared you to share your school's vision with a potential donor. If you hadn't done that work, you wouldn't be in this role.
People need to know who is thinking about the school's mission every day - who is driving its strategy and caring for its spiritual and organizational needs. As the president, they trust you because you did the tough work of readying yourself for this role. And they will listen to you if you are willing to lay down the lexicon, turn off the computer, and sit, person to person.
You are the teller of the story: Where your school started, what drove the institution during the hard times, and how God has met your needs in both special and ordinary ways. Donors need to hear this from you. And as you repeat this story, you will find that it defines and refines your vision.
Meanwhile, as the president, you have special access to people with wealth. It's important to examine our motivations and not to ignore the widow's mite, but it's also a fact of life that people whose resources can buoy your institution want to talk to the top person. By sharing your school's vision with them, you are being strategic, building avenues into the lives of people who have many suitors and many competing commitments.
As a president, when you meet with donor prospects, you are pushed in new ways. They reply with questions and bring up issues that don't permit rote responses. If they earned their money through dynamic and creative thinking, they will also pose tough questions of you, and your own thinking will be clarified and enriched.
When you meet with donors, you are renewed spiritually. Your senior role gives you a position of respect and provides room for you to discuss questions of eternal significance with people who may not usually take time for such matters. And you can become the receiver too.
Senior donor development is the purview of the president. Before I embraced the calling of donor development, I found that those scarecrows were flapping their puny arms in the breeze, trying to keep me from enjoying the vital resources that God had raised up for my institution's life and health.
But then I learned to see it the other way. I learned to find joy and meaning in sitting at lunch, or dangling my legs over the side of a golf cart. I found that I was doing for others what we call our graduates to do: minister into hungry and needy lives.
A director emeritus of In Trust, Brian C. Stiller is president of the Tyndale Foundation in Toronto. From 1995 to 2009, he was president of Tyndale University College & Seminary.
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