Brian Stiller



Global Ambassador @ WEA

Brian Stiller



Global Ambassador @ WEA

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Watch Out for Scarecrows

June 20, 2010 Articles

Did you hear the story of an American, a Scot and a Canuck (Canadian) who were in a terrible car accident?

Brought to the same emergency room, they all died before they arrived. Just as they were about to put the toe tag on the American, he stirred and opened his eyes. Astonished, the doctors and nurses asked him what happened.

“Well,” said the American, “I remember the crash and a beautiful light. The Canadian, Scot and I were standing at the gates of heaven. St. Peter looked at us, said we were all too young to die, and said that for a donation of $100, we could return to the earth.

“So I pulled out my wallet and gave him the $100, and the next thing I knew I was back here.”

“That’s amazing!” said one of the doctors, “But what happened to the other two?”

“Last, I saw them,” replied the American, “the Scot was haggling over the price and the Canadian was waiting for the government to pay for his.”

All three are stereotypes. Fitting into ethno/cultural caricatures and drawing on humour with which we elbow-nudge each other, it points out how we are shaped by impressions, experiences and quick-to-decide conclusions.

Seminary presidents are not exempt. Spooked by the very idea of fundraising, we can deny its importance, shuffle it off to another or assert it is not part of our gifting.

“After all, do you think I spent years working on a PhD so I could end up sitting in a restaurant or on a golf cart asking for money?”

Yes you did. And the time, money, energy was worth it. Let me show you why.


A stereotype can do more than humour us; it can throw us off course.

The Old Testament prophet warned the people of his community:

“Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field are they, And they cannot speak; They must be carried, Because they cannot walk! Do not fear them, For they can do no harm, Nor can they do any good.” (Jer 10:5 NAS)

Scarecrows frighten birds, rabbits, and deer from raiding a garden. The idea of fundraising throws presidents off course for a few reasons: it’s not the kind of work we’ve done; it seems beneath our calling and education; it fits somewhere close to religious snake-oil hucksters we too often see on television.

It literally scares us off. We are spooked by the very idea.

I say, ignore the scarecrow.

You wouldn’t have authority and conviction to speak to a donor if you hadn’t done your studies. No one can take your place. We didn’t know at the time where we would end up as we slaved away on language, ground out a doctoral thesis and sweated over our presentations. But we wouldn’t be in this role if we hadn’t done that work.

You are the repository of trust. People have a need to know who it is that day after day is holding on to the mission, driving the strategy and caring for the spiritual and organizational needs. They trust you, because you not only did the tough work of getting yourself ready for this role, but you are willing to lay down the lexicon, turn off the computer, bring closure to the many meetings and sit, person to person, answering their questions and letting them see and feel your heart.

And you are the teller of the story. Even if you are recent to your role, one person is the prime storyteller and that is you: Where we started out; what drove us in the hard times; the essence and genius of who we are; how we live in turbulence; when God met us in special and ordinary ways. They need to hear it from you. You encapsulate it. What you will find, the more you tell it, it will catch your passion, it will define your vision and it will help in refining what it is you really want to do.

Showing interest in those outside of the academy, those who may know little about the inner workings, will be drawn into a new and enriching world. They will be changed as they see the strategic importance of training leaders and building scholarship. Without you telling them, who will they hear from? I admit, I speak of those with more than the average amount of dispensable wealth. Are we being selective and ignoring the Widow’s gift. We need to be careful of attitude and motivation. But in every community, for reasons beyond our control, those with capacity to enable and lift our schools are not that accessible. They keep distance. But more likely, they will listen to the president. We aren’t feeding their sense of importance; we are being strategic and building avenues into their lives.

Taking on this important role in fund development, as president we put ourselves in situations where we push out the boundaries, resist the status quo – an endemic condition of academic communities. What literally happens as the president engages senior donors is that questions are posed, and issues raised that don’t allow typical responses. People with financial capacity often are so because of their own dynamic and creative thinking. As they ask, press possibilities and wonder why we do things the way we do, we are enriched, pushed and pulled into thinking thoughts we might not otherwise think.

You are renewed. Reciprocal spiritual interaction takes place. Your senior role gives you position of respect giving you room to ask the questions of life, which may open the door for you to speak life, truth and love into their lives. And we become the receivers too.

(Over the years, I’ve found that scheduling meeting at least two and preferably three donors each week for a breakfast or lunch routinizes this central role of life-giving leadership.)

Senior donor development is a purview of the president. Of all the joys of presidential leading in a seminary, such a hallowed and respected calling of leading the way in donor development defies the scraggly scarecrows, flapping their puny arms in the breeze. Not only are they not real, but their presence also tells us that what they represent has no life at all.

See it the other way. Find joy and meaning in sitting at lunch or dangling your legs over the side of a golf cart, all the while doing for others what we call our graduates to do: minister into hungry and needy lives. Scarecrows can’t. You can.

Brian C Stiller
June 23, 2010.
For In Trust