Calvin's Future
Part Six: An Interview with Dirk Pruis.

Spark concludes its six-part series of conversations with the leadership of Calvin College, bringing readers up to date with campus issues and examining future directions. Dirk Pruis ’82 came back to Calvin in August to be the new vice president for advancement. The former All-American diver for the Knights holds an MBA degree from the University of Michigan and worked for the accounting firm of Touche Ross and financial giant Goldman Sachs before helping found EquiLend, a joint venture of Wall Street institutions. Pruis is responsible for Calvin’s alumni and development operations.

Additional Interviews: President Gaylen Byker | Provost Joel Carpenter | Shirley Hoogstra| Henry DeVries | Tom McWhertor | Dirk Pruis

After years of working on Wall Street, what drew you to the vice president for advancement position?
The draw was Calvin College more than the specific position, though certainly the position is a pretty good fit in terms of my interests and my skill set. This journey began with discussions about how I could be involved with Calvin College. Over the past couple of years I’ve served on the board of trustees, and I, like many others, came back to campus, got deeply involved and saw firsthand what is happening on campus. One can’t help but get very excited about this place. When the vice president position became available, I began, of course, to consider the skills it required, but this is really more about Calvin College and its mission. When I think about Calvin’s influence on the world in so many different ways through its alumni, that’s what gets me excited. In this position, specifically in advancement, there’s a tremendous opportunity to have a long-term influence on the mission and impact of the college.

What exactly is “advancement” at Calvin?
I think Calvin has thought about advancement in a way that many institutions of our size and scale would, which is a combination of the fund-raising and development activities of the college; the relationship that it has with virtually all of its external constituency — which would include alumni, parents and friends, and the church communities — and how that dovetails into the college’s image in the broader public. Essentially, it is how Calvin brands itself in the outside world. We do that in so many ways, for example, through programs like the January Series or through conferences like the Worship Symposium and the Festival of Faith and Writing.

But that also includes the way that our faculty and staff deal with the outside world through their speaking, writing and in the media.

"Calvin’s endowment, relative to most of its peers, is small, but that’s a result of only starting to build an endowment in our first capital campaign about a decade ago. For the long-term sustainability and affordability of the college, it’s a key component of what we need to do." — Dirk Pruis

How is Calvin doing in its fund-raising efforts?
In the context of development and fund raising, Calvin is a very young institution. We really haven’t been doing fund raising in an organized way for a very long time. We’ve been at this for only 20 years or so while many other institutions have been at this for much, much longer. So we’re in many ways still developing in terms of understanding our constituents — their giving capacity, their giving needs — and connecting that with Calvin’s mission.

One thing that we’ve talked about a lot at the board of trustees level is the state of the existing campus and the need to provide for long-term sustainability of the infrastructure in addition to new programs and new buildings. Calvin is also very new to the theory of endowment. Calvin’s endowment, relative to most of its peers, is small, but that’s a result of only starting to build an endowment in our first capital campaign about a decade ago. For the long-term sustainability and affordability of the college, it’s a key component of what we need to do. Calvin was historically funded through the support of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), the covenantal giving of its constituency, and tuition. We still need that covenantal giving and the support of the CRC because that’s still a crucial part of the annual operations of the college. But for long-term affordability, endowment is really important. Some of the endowment that we’re building now has a strong impact on annual operations, whether that’s endowing the operations of buildings, faculty chairs and research, or student scholarships.

How does donating to endowment benefit Calvin?
Most gifts to endowment are specifically designated for a particular purpose. For example, many people have become involved in giving to the scholarship program. When someone decides to endow a scholarship, there’s a certain level of funds that are set aside. The college invests those funds, pooled with all of its other endowment dollars, and that produces an annual income. That income then provides for the scholarship on an annual basis, in perpetuity. So that one-time endowment gift will give forever.

The same thing applies for other types of programs, whether it’s to fund a chair in a department or the operating maintenance of a building. Today we don’t build buildings or add to infrastructure without endowing their operations. That allows us to provide more services to students without increasing tuition costs.

Alumni and friends came to the college’s aid 40 years ago and helped us build the Fine Arts Center, the library, the Commons and the Fieldhouse, but in those days there was not built into the process a way to keep them maintained, renovated and equipped with up-to-date technology. All of those things are currently directly in or impact the operating budget, which puts pressure on tuition. When we talk about sustainability, we’re talking about endowing some of the existing campus facilities that were built years ago and for which we have significant annual operating and deferred maintenance expenses.

What physical plant needs does Calvin anticipate fund raising for in the coming years?
We are seeking major gifts for an upcoming campaign at Calvin College, which, depending on our initial success, we hope to announce more broadly to our constituency sometime in 2006. But a piece of that campaign will be for specific capital needs, and certainly the largest and most externally visible project in our coming capital campaign is the planned wellness or athletic facility, which will include both a renovation of the existing Fieldhouse and natatorium and an addition of some significant new facilities. It’s extremely important to the student body and the constituency because of the impact that wellness has on everyone’s lives today. Our medical facilities will be housed in the same building, and that campus health center is perhaps an undernoticed but important component. Our health center, which has been housed in a dorm basement for decades, will have a beautiful new space as part of the new facility.

Dirk Pruis, Gaylen Byker, Bob BerkhofThe second major physical plant or capital project is a new and renovated dining facility and campus Commons, which will be both a dining facility as well as a gathering spot or student union. Similar to what many universities call their student union, our facility will be a kind of central gathering place in the middle of campus for various student and alumni programming and a place to study in addition to being a place to eat; it will be a significant change to what we have today. Right now we’re arguably short on that type of gathering place for students who commute and for alumni who return to campus. We have a significant commuting population here, and that’s been a challenge for us. It’s not difficult to get ingrained in the life of campus when you live here, but I think it’s more of a challenge when you commute. This facility will help significantly our ability to build community.

Finally, there is the renovation of the Fine Arts Center. This facility has been a tremendous asset both for the college and the Grand Rapids community over the years. But the facility has aged under 40 years of constant use and needs significant renovation and updating. Technology has changed tremendously, so a lot of our older buildings need to be rewired or made wireless for the 21st century. I think that Calvin’s stewardship of its facilities is phenomenal, and we have a physical plant staff that does miraculous things. It is amazing what they do with the resources that are available. But what we hope to do is to make the sustainability of facilities permanent, so we don’t have the ongoing pull on the operations of the college.

What is the Annual Fund, and what is that money used for?
Calvin’s revenue comes from three different categories. One is tuition dollars. That’s by far the largest percentage of revenue and how operations are funded.

The second source is the Annual Fund. The Annual Fund is direct operating revenue that offsets and provides for the annual operation of the college. Simply stated, if the Annual Fund did not exist, tuition would go up. We raise nearly $3 million annually in the annual fund. If we didn’t have it, that $3 million would have to come directly from the students and their families. In other words, without the Annual Fund or some other source of revenue, each current student’s tuition would go up by about $730 a year. I think that’s really important for people to understand. The Annual Fund is not some amorphous thing without a current impact — it’s tremendously important. We believe that our alumni and friends ought to think about Calvin as part of their annual covenantal giving to a kingdom institution. I think about giving to Calvin College the same way I think about giving to my church. It’s sustainability; it’s part of my responsibility to keep that institution whole.

A third source of Calvin’s support is ministry shares from the Christian Reformed Church. We now receive through ministry shares between 2 and 3 percent of our operating budget. If you look back to when we moved to the Knollcrest Campus 50 years ago, that percentage was 36 percent — an unbelievable change over time. Calvin has grown in size and scale since those days, and certainly our student population is significantly greater, but I think much of our church constituency thinks that the denomination gives the same percentage of support to the college as in years past. The college’s ties to the church are perhaps in many ways stronger today, in terms of programs, partnerships and ongoing dialogue, as they have been over the years. However, the financial link is not what it was in the past; comparatively, there’s a relatively small number of dollars that come from the church now. That support is still critically important, and we certainly are thankful for it, but I think it’s important for our Christian Reformed constituents to realize the change. In summary, the support from the Annual Fund and the CRC are direct revenue sources for the college, and if they were not there the burden would have to fall directly on students and their families through increased tuition.

Dirk Pruis, VP for advancement and former All-American diverWhat are some of the ways that the fund-raising operation can keep Calvin strong academically for our faculty?
Well, there are a number of different ways. Probably the most visible way is through some of the institutes that have been established over the last one to three years. Some of these are now operating, while others have just been established. These include the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning, the Gainey Institute for Faith and Communication, the Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity and some others that will be announced in the coming months.

The Kuyers Institute is a good example. Professor David Smith heads that up, and it’s having some significant influence on the thought of Christian pedagogy. The institute has sponsored conferences, lectures and has a wonderful Web site with tremendous resources available.

The second way is through endowment chairs. This method provides the opportunity to both keep talented faculty here at Calvin as well as draw some people to Calvin that may not have considered coming here previously. It provides for reduced teaching loads and for specific focus in certain academic areas along with some research support; it allows a faculty member to do new or continued research and teach. It’s the best of all worlds from our perspective.

We’ve been blessed at Calvin to have a faculty that is simply outstanding. But the remuneration in certain disciplines is significantly less than what it would be in either the private sector or at a major research university. It says a great deal about the commitment of our faculty members and how important they feel it is to teach at a Christian institution. But we can’t sit back, appreciate their sacrifice and ignore the salary and funding disparity. Both the institutes and the endowed chairs provide opportunities for us to draw faculty and to encourage some of the same kind of research that goes on in some of the major research universities to occur here. I think the institutes are critical to help make and keep Calvin at the center for Reformed thought in many different academic disciplines.

How do we build an alumni community that not only cares deeply about its alma mater but acts on that feeling?
Calvin has grown and changed and evolved so much over the years, and it’s just such a tremendous place to be right now. I think our challenge is to make that connection, to get people back to campus or at least reconnected with all of the exciting things that are happening today.

This realization happens time and time again for alumni. They get Spark and other communications from the college for years, but to really understand the magnificent changes in virtually every academic department and campus program — to know how much better Calvin is today from when they attended — you must come for a visit.

It happened to me when I joined the alumni board. It happens to alumni parents when they take their high school kids to Fridays at Calvin.

I also think we’re better at connecting with the young alums today than we were with the same group 10 years ago. And I think that’s partly because we have a better product today; I think that the college is shaping them more intentionally than those who went here years ago, and partly because we are educating them on their responsibility as alumni and how they can be involved — how important that is and the difference they can make.

Why should Calvin be high on the charitable giving list for our alumni?
There are a number of reasons. First of all, whether it’s from our churches, evangelical organizations, Third World support, relief agencies, there are so many tugs on our purse strings, and all of those things are worthy of our giving dollars. I invest in Calvin because of the impact Calvin has through its alumni and students on all of the areas I’ve just mentioned. And I use that word invest very purposely because my career has been in financial services, and I think in those terms. Through Calvin, because of its mission and its impact on young people who then go out and serve and become leaders in all of these areas, you can support ministries and relief efforts worldwide because of Calvin’s influence on its graduates, and, in some cases, its direct influence on specific issues. Our alums are quite astounding in terms of what they have done. So when I think about how I could affect the future of the world, I think about Calvin. Investing in an educational institution that delivers a Reformed worldview, and teaches students that it doesn’t matter if one is a teacher, engineer, nurse, business professional, philosopher, writer, or if one works for a nonprofit or a for-profit institution, the ultimate mission is to transform the kingdom. If you have a Reformed perspective, I can’t think of a better place to invest those dollars where they will grow more broadly. You’re planting acorns that turn into oak trees. There clearly are many other worthwhile institutions that look to fill an immediate need. Calvin is a long-term investment in people and how those people will influence God’s world.