Cultivating the Soil

The employment of agricultural metaphors to describe aspects of institutional development strategy is both appropriate and widespread.  Stewarding an institution's philanthropic resources is often articulated in terms of "cultivating its base of support."  Regrettably, too many institutions place most of their emphasis on reaping the fruit, with too little thought to the prior steps that need to be taken in order to ensure a bountiful harvest.  In this part of the Case, a proposed development strategy for ESR's is outlined.  This strategy is rooted in the "5-I" cultivation cycle principle, which attempts to provide a comprehensive framework for all the essential activities of successful institutional development.

The 5-Is refer to the essential stages of donor cultivation: Identify, Inform, Interest, Involve and Invest.  Under this schema, prospective donors are first Identified and qualified in terms of their potential to give to the institution.  They are then Informed of the institution and its programs through personal contact, institutional publications and various other forms of media.  In communicating with its prospective donors, the institution appeals to their Interests by demonstrating how its programs serve them and/or the communities to which they belong.  Prospective donors are then Involved in the life of the institution through a variety of means, including: volunteer service, community consultation, serving on a committee, attending events, etc.  And finally, after suitable cultivation, the prospective donor is invited to Invest in the institution through a donation.  The cultivation cycle is then repeated, beginning with the "inform" stage, with the goal of increasing the donor's awareness of the institution and deepening their commitment to it over time.

Challenges to ESR's possibilities for fund-raising

Donor base

Although precise numbers were unavailable for this report, the general impression of this author is that the average and median ages of ESR donors is quite elderly.  Many donors can be seen to have given consistently over the years, but some have begun to decline in their levels of support as, presumably, they spend down their estate and have less discretionary income.  This situation is compounded by the fact that the donor base has remained relatively static over the years, with relatively few new donors brought on to replace the declining participation of older donors.  This factor is most obviously reflected in the stagnating, and even slightly declining amounts raised by ESR's Annual Fund over the past 10 years.

Organization of ESR

ESR suffers from the lack of a meaningful forum for volunteer participation and involvement in its development efforts.  ESR's Board of Advisors (BOA) is just that—a board that offers advice, rather than a working board that carries out regularly assigned tasks.  To some degree, this stems from the fact that the BOA does not have fiduciary and governance responsibilities; though this does not entirely preclude its moral responsibility for advancing the interests of ESR.  The infrequency with which ESR's primary forum for volunteer input meets is also a factor.  The Development Committee of ESR's Board of Advisors meets only once a year for an hour and a half.  It is impossible to cultivate the meaningful involvement of volunteer leadership in the advancement activities of ESR under these circumstances.

ESR's advancement efforts also suffer to some degree from marked differences in the primary donor constituencies of Earlham College and ESR, and respective advancement cultures of the two institutions.  Earlham College's advancement efforts are overwhelmingly focused upon its alumni, whereas ESR's primary focus is upon members of the Religious Society of Friends.  A staff-driven model of institutional advancement is thus more appropriate to Earlham College, whose primary constituents already know about the College and are already known by it.  By contrast, the vast majority of ESR's prospective donors do not yet know ESR, are not yet known by the School.  These unknown and unknowing prospects will best become known and knowing through the close involvement of knowledgeable volunteer leadership in advancement activities; in particular, in the processes of prospect identification and review, and helping arrange introductions between new prospects and ESR.

Nature of the Religious Society of Friends

The Religious Society of Friends tends to have highly decentralized power structures.  Furthermore, many Monthly and even Yearly Meetings are informally organized and have frequent turnover in leadership.  This complicates ESR's efforts to approach these natural constituents for support.  This has resulted in ESR deriving a far smaller share of its support from congregations and church organizations than peer Protestant seminaries.  Given that most Protestant seminaries are experiencing declining levels of support from their affiliated church organizations, this might not reflect badly on ESR, which already derives much more support from individual donors than its peers.  Compounding the problem of low congregational support are the highly fragmented religious beliefs of Quakers as a whole.  The Society of Friends encompasses a wide range of religious beliefs: from atheistic universalism to Christ-centered evangelical fundamentalism, and everything in between.  This makes it extremely difficult for ESR to articulate a consistent message about itself and its core beliefs without alienating some element of Quakerism.

Another challenge posed to ESR's fundraising efforts relates to the overall decline in membership among the Religious Society of Friends in North America.  As illustrated at the conclusion of Part I of this Case, reported membership in Quaker Yearly Meetings in North America dropped by 28,929, from 121,184 members at its peak in 1962, to 92,256 at the last official census of Yearly Meetings.  If present downward trends in membership were to continue unchecked, the Religious Society of Friends would become extinct in North America sometime early in the 22nd century.  Demographic trends within the Quaker community suggest that this projection is, if anything, optimistic.  Although no official statistics are maintained by the various Quaker umbrella organizations (FUM, FGC, EFI) the general consensus of anecdotal evidence is that the median age of Quaker Meetings is rising, particularly among those Meetings most closely affiliated with ESR, and that they are failing to cultivate the next generation of membership and leaders (For more concrete expressions of this viewpoint, please refer to: Among Friends – A consultation with Friends about the condition of Quakers in the U.S. today; in particular, pgs. 18-20, 32, & 102-126).

Strengths to ESR's possibilities for fund-raising

Donor base

ESR benefits from consistent giving by a strong cadre of donors.  ESR has experienced an exceptionally high rate of return on its direct mail solicitations, despite the lack of personalization and segmentation that has been employed in its mass mailings in the past.  Roughly 700 donors respond to ESR's annual fund campaign each year from a database of approximately 3,500 names.  Although these numbers come after a recent purging of approximately 1,000 unresponsive names from the database, a response rate of 20% from ESR's direct mail appeal is a startling figure, considering that many organizations count themselves successful when they achieve response rates in the mid-single digits.  That ESR continues to achieve such high rates of response in the face of a lack of personalization and segmentation in its direct mail solicitations bears testimony to both the generosity and forbearance of Quakers, and the importance of ESR in their eyes.  Another outstanding strength of ESR's institutional advancement efforts is its consistently high levels of income from bequests and planned giving.  This, more than any other single factor, speaks of the high regard with which people hold ESR.

Organization of ESR

ESR benefits from the existence of a young, motivated and professional teaching and administrative faculty.  The faculty has embraced the idea that ESR must nurture a culture of philanthropy in order to succeed.  There is also a palpable sense that ESR is on the path to becoming a truly great seminary on a national scale.  ESR also benefits from the presence of a Dean who has gone to considerable lengths to learn the fundamentals of successful fund-raising.  Finally, the careful stewarding of ESR's endowment over the years has put it in a class of its own among its peer seminaries, and provides an extremely positive signal to prospective donors of the careful management that their major and planned gifts to ESR will receive.

Nature of the Religious Society of Friends

While the loose organization of the Religious Society of Friends presents many challenges to ESR's institutional advancement efforts, the ethos that it promotes among its membership has the potential to bestow many blessings.  Quakerism's emphasis on a personal relationship with God generally translates into a well-rooted sense of individual responsibility and community spirit.  This religiously based individualism is also well attuned to the dominant zeitgeist of modern beliefs; one consequence of which is that Quaker beliefs have gained wide credence in contemporary non-Quaker circles.  The Quaker emphasis on peace and justice issues is also extremely topical at present.  At a time when the United States government has intentionally chosen the path of war, even to the point of questionable legality and to the harm of its long-term interests, the Quaker peace testimonies have particular relevance for both Friends and society at large.  Finally, the aging demographic among those segments of the Religious Society of Friends that tend to support ESR points to outstanding opportunities for planned giving programs.