Culture Change on the Board: Riding the Fundraising Paradigm Shift

14 May

Our students have now finished up their exams and are settling into the jobs they will hold for the summer. One of them is going off to Turkey to work with the state department all summer, while another is planning a Chicago tour of churches after having been baptized at our Agape House worship service this spring. I, on the other hand, look forward to the summer lull. By “summer lull”, I mean spending the usual 50 hour work week bent entirely over my computer focused on administration work without as much chance to interact with human beings. Thankfully, we still hold regular yoga sessions all summer.

This summer, our board of directors and I will be spending some time working on changing the culture of our board. Until now, it has operated as mostly a stamp of approval board, except for the times a few of them scurried to help us find new office space when we couldn’t afford the rent (again). Now we do not have office space at all, so we can turn our full attention to board members finally taking the initiative in directing the ministry, particularly regarding fundraising.

Agape House hired me as a part-time campus minister in the fall of 2009, and they made me the lone director the very next fall. Little did I know, they had long ago developed the habit of leaving all fundraising work up to the executive director. It made sense in a way, because most of our funding came from larger governing bodies of various denominations. The executive director would fill out the necessary paper work for IUMHE state-wide ecumenical campus ministry group, the United Methodist Northern Illinois Conference, and the Synod of Lincoln Trails (PCUSA). IUMHE has disappeared, and the Synod of Lincoln Trails stopped giving money a while back. Chicago Presbytery has stepped in for now, but both the presbytery and the Northern Illinois Conference have indicated those funds will not last forever. Our treasurer just showed me a brief financial history of Agape, and we saw a sharp drop in Agape’s budget that began in 2008 (what a great year that was!) that has continued every year since.

We are now rallying the cavalry and trying to figure out how we could change the nature of our funding base so that a smattering of congregations and a huge network of individuals could sustain a full-time minister. Our development committee started off by scheduling and holding a meeting without the director at all! Hey, that’s a start and a healthy step toward the board perpetuating its own work without the need for the executive director to wrangle everyone each time. Maybe someday they will even make points of contact with all our funders on their own. One can dream.

In the meantime, we’re also mulling over wacky ministry transformations that have the potential to provide sources of income independent from fundraising. Before I came to Agape, they considered building a residence building partnering with UIC, but that dissolved along with the housing market in 2008. This year, we have discussed the possibility of becoming a coffee shop, of buying a small house with a few student residences, and even of trying to become a church instead of a campus ministry. We strive to make sure our options are not simply smoothing over the issue, but rather addressing the root of the problem. What ways is your ministry attempting to address this national trend?

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 Rev. Kurt Esslinger is Director and Campus Minister of Agape House Christian Ministry on the campus of the University of Illinois in Chicago. He is an ordained teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., and Agape House was his first call in the fall of 2009. Agape is an ecumenical campus ministry that began in the 60’s when UIC resided at Navy Pier in Chicago. He received his M. Div. at McCormick Theological Seminary and his BA in Classics at Austin College in Sherman, TX. During seminary, he spent one year studying at Hanshin Univeristy in Seoul, Korea. Before seminary, he spent one year as a PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer in Burnley, England.
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5 Responses to “Culture Change on the Board: Riding the Fundraising Paradigm Shift”

  1. Nancy May 14, 2012 at 9:42 am #

    Best wishes! When you figure out how to get your board to take actual responsibility for fundraising, please share how you did that!

  2. paul walley May 14, 2012 at 11:16 am #

    Hi, Kurt,

    I give you credit for laying it out as it is. It takes courage and honesty to do this. Good for you. Unless your Board members co-shoulder this task with you (and it’s a monumental one) they are not doing their job nor are they supporting you so you can do effective ministry.

    I found by forming a team of from 10-15 folks (some Board, some church friends) to reach out to their friends we brought in $10,000+ each year. Whatever you can do with them will go a long way to stabilizing your campus ministry and putting funding on a surer footing.

    May God guide and bless your efforts!
    Paul Walley
    Current NCMA President

  3. Agape House @ UIC (@agapehouseuic) May 15, 2012 at 8:21 am #

    Thanks guys. Paul, I am hoping that 10k+ is only from individuals? That actually does give me some hope of that as a possibility. I wonder what networks of congregations could look like? It seems like it could be helpful if congregations could stagger the years they grant money so that certain congregations aren’t shouldering the burden alone.

    • paul walley May 15, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

      Yep, all individuals. Mostly church members of supporting congregations.
      We got larger gifts from the churches also but separate from this ~ which we called “Friends of the Center” (we did it annually each fall). Good wishes on your funding ventures.

  4. Christopher Eshelman May 16, 2012 at 10:19 pm #

    Paul – can you say more about how this team was formed and what approach they used communicating with their contacts? How did you (or your board) equip this team? I too am right at this juncture of changing how we’ve raised money and find this discussion hopeful and encouraging! Thanks.

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