For David King, Ph.D., Karen Lake Buttrey Director of Lake Institute on Faith & Giving and assistant professor of philanthropic studies, the aspiration to both teach and work in service to religious institutions propelled him to seek a position where he could do both.
After completing his undergraduate degree in history and a master’s degree in divinity, King went to work with a congregation in Texas through a Lilly Endowment grant. Upon completion of the two-year grant program, King decided to pursue his Ph.D. in historical studies in the religion department at Emory University. That persistent belief to teach and serve religious institutions stayed with him, though.
During the last year of the program, King attended a conference that Lake Institute hosted and met Richard Klopp, Ph.D. ‘15, then-associate director of the institute. He told King about Lake Institute’s doctoral dissertation fellowship, which King then applied for and earned during his last year of research.
“I presented to the board about my research on World Vision. Through that experience, I learned about this really interesting organization, the work it’s doing, and the impact it has in the field of religion and philanthropy,” he explained.
When William Enright, Ph.D., announced his retirement as director in late 2013, a search committee reached out to King, who by then had completed his Ph.D. and worked as an assistant professor in Memphis, Tennessee.
“It felt like a great fit and a perfect mix – not only could I conduct research and teach, but I could also practically translate research to religious institutions, both congregations and faith-based nonprofits.”
Almost five years into leading Lake Institute, and King fulfills his “both/and” long-term goal of teaching, researching, and translating research every day, although if you ask him about a “typical day,” it doesn’t exist.
“I try to carve out some time in the morning to research or write.” (His book on World Vision, based on his dissertation research, will be published in May. Don’t worry – we’ll be featuring it in another, upcoming blog post!)
“After that, I have a lot conversations. Many are with the Lake staff to discuss how we can manage and distribute the National Study on Congregations’ Economic Practices (NSCEP) project and findings. Or, it’s discussing our upcoming off-site educational courses. I also meet with leaders in town that want to talk about fundraising or development.
“I also typically teach an academic course once a year – one on religion and philanthropy for the master’s degree students, and then one on ethics and philanthropy for our Ph.D. students.”
This semester, King teaches the master’s level course. “I enjoy that course because it exposes our students to the wide variety of religious traditions, how those traditions impact broader themes of giving, and how that thinking and knowledge can be applied to the students’ own traditions, goals, and interests.
“Then, they’re able to effectively engage with donors or others at their organizations in these types of values conversations, including asking the question ‘what motivates people to give?’”
The combination of teaching students and teaching practitioners remains one of King’s favorite parts about working at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and Lake Institute. “It’s fun to imagine how we can address these big questions through research, focus groups, bringing speakers to campus, and other avenues. While it’s challenging to balance the different aspects of the role, it’s very exciting what we’re doing at the school and in the field.”
Looking ahead, King hopes to continue to expand Lake Institute’s capacity to expand and meet the opportunities ahead.
“We hope to grow our educational courses, train more individuals, and imbue our educational courses with relevant research, including the findings from the NSCEP study.”
“We also want to continue to expand our work on asking broader questions about faith and giving outside of faith-based nonprofits and congregations, including asking questions about faith and values in a society that’s continually changing. We’d love to be a convener of conversations about meaning-making in foundations, families, and communities. There might not be a more needed topic in today’s world than working alongside and across religious difference for the common good.”
Within his busy role, King most enjoys working with Lake Institute’s team. “It’s a great team to work with – everybody brings a unique set of gifts to the table. Coming to work and tapping into their imaginations and energy makes the job very enjoyable.”