News & Insights

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.

A summary of the report in the Autumn 2014 issue of In Trust provided a “snapshot” of the pertinent data, especially data from the 20 schools that strengthened their net assets by 40 percent or more over the course of that decade. As Ruger and Meinzer noted at the time, “This is a remarkable achievement when enrollment, investment markets, and gifts were wobbly.”

The authors listed four characteristics of schools that were successful during this time:

  1. Conviction. Leadership shared a conviction that deficits are unacceptable and toxic.
  2. Teamwork. Successful schools exhibited collaboration among board members, administration, and faculty.
  3. Development. Development efforts succeeded when the board produced a balanced budget. Put simply by one president: “Donors don’t want to fill your hole. They want to build a mountain.”
  4. Vision. One school talked about a 40-year strategic plan. Another school topped that with a 100-year plan. These claims are surprising. Most three-year strategic plans are out of date in 18 months. How could any institution plan so far in advance? 

The 40- and 100-year plans were not “plans” in any conventional sense. They were statements of the school’s values and vision. Put another way, the “plans” were the translation of the mission into the corporate, shared vocation of the school. 

No one knows what the next five, ten, or hundred years will bring. But your school can learn from the past by studying what worked during the difficult decade that began in 2001.

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Upcoming Events

The In Trust Center hosts learning community spaces throughout the year. Check out our upcoming events below.

Called to the Chair: Board Leadership for Unsettled Times


Dr. Rebekah Basinger addresses the opportunities and challenges that come with chairing the board of a theological school, which include how to design effective board meetings, enhance board member engagement, and develop the board for long-term effectiveness, while giving attention to the board chair and president partnership and the critical importance of call in both roles.

Stakeholder Management Planning


Every organization should be prepared with a plan that establishes specific communication goals for key stakeholders in order to ensure the success of its programs, initiatives, or ongoing communication strategy. In this webinar, Josh Peskin, Ph.D., an expert in organizational communications, will walk through the elements of developing a stakeholder management plan to help you engage with your audiences in a more effective way. Click to view.

Conflict + Crisis: Navigating the Shoals Part 1


Presenter Donna Alexander, President & CEO of Advoxum Global Strategies, offers best practices for navigating conflict and crisis. She examines the crucial elements of defining conflict and crisis, identifying, and prioritizing affected stakeholders, utilizing effective communication strategies, and ultimately, executing a plan of action.

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