Youth theology program at Calvin Theological Seminary

The Autumn 2010 edition of In Trust featured a story titled "Seminary Kids." It reports the success of several seminary-based youth programs funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. Lilly originally funded more than two dozen of these programs, but only a handful were able to find successful pathways to institutional sustainability. The In Trust article suggests that the youth programs that were integral to the core missions of their schools were able to survive.

In the early years of the youth theology initiative, many seminaries saw the low-hanging fruit from a friendly foundation and acted quickly to apply for grants to set up youth programs. Some of these may have neglected to give deep consideration to how a major grant would affect their mission and whether the grant-funded program would integrate into longstanding institutional goals and values.

Board members are right to resist the urge to micromanage administrative decisions such as those related to funding decisions and foundation cultivation. But what if a funding opportunity -- such as pursuing a major grant or accepting a major gift -- gets to the heart of the institution's mission and vision? When should a board get involved?

The story on seminary youth programs includes a list of questions that boards should ask when considering major funding:

  1. Is the grant program germane to our school's mission?
  2. What are our specific goals and objectives for the program?
  3. How will we measure outcomes?
  4. If the program is successful, can we sustain it after the funding period?
  5. What new partnerships will this program foster?
  6. How will participation affect our existing programs?
  7. What will be the impact on our faculty and staff?
  8. Will the grant-funded program strengthen relationships with key constituents such as alumni, donors, students, and parent church or denomination?
  9. Will the program raise the visibility of our seminary in positive ways?
  10. What will we -- board members, administrators, faculty, and staff -- learn from this program?

Wise governance is not micromanaging. To be sure, the line is often gray, but it's important for the board to ask hard questions about potentially game-changing sources of external funding.

Read the full article here. (The list of questions is at the bottom.)

Print the article in PDF form here.


Photo by Kristin Peereboom / Calvin Theological Seminary