Over the past month, we’ve highlighted the various members of Lake Institute on Faith & Giving’s team, who all play specific roles in conducting and translating research, teaching educational courses, and connecting with leaders of faith communities.
Who manages these educational courses? Who plans the events? Who processes the continual amount of travel receipts that come through? Through my interview with the three other Lake Institute staff members, I got (and you get!) a peek into the “inside lives” of the behind-the-scenes work and what the three “bring to the table.”
Tell me what you do for Lake Institute, and how your background has prepared you for your role.
Curtis Kester (CK): I’m the senior administrative assistant, so I do the majority of the administrative work that needs to happen. I process all of the travel from our courses, convenings, conferences, etc. I keep in touch with the advisory board and help plan those meetings. I help to ensure we keep in line with our budgets and particularly assist in keeping up with our grant project spending. I also handle general communications directed to our team.
I also work with our sub-grantees, ensuring that they understand the connection between Lake Institute and Indiana University.
After I completed my undergraduate degree, I worked as a case manager at a mental health organization and then as a paralegal advocate. I also helped start a nonprofit gym in Atlanta.
Before I arrived here, I worked for three years as a business administrator for a church in Seattle. The church suffered from a great deal of debt when the pastor and I came on board, and we had to fundraise to help “right the ship.”
When my wife and I knew we were moving to Indianapolis, I found this role at Lake Institute. I saw a lot of overlap between my skillset and experience and what Lake needed.
Looking back on it, taking the Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising (ECRF) course would have been quite helpful at that time.
Rafia Khader (RK): As one of the program managers, I manage a number of our ECRFs and our other course, Cultivating Generous Congregations (CGC). A good amount of my time also focuses on the Muslim Philanthropy Initiative, which is part of Lake Institute. We have the Journal of Muslim Philanthropy and Civil Society that is published twice a year. I ensure that each submission has enough helpful peer reviews, we follow all the protocol to ensure the process remains blind, and work with a copy editor to get the final issues ready to print, etc.
I also assist with certain research-related projects, and manage Lake’s Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, which is offered once a year to a Ph.D. student in his or her final year.
I was most recently involved in helping bring to life a tailored ECRF for a Muslim-only audience. This involved a lot of contextualization since much of the ECRF content assumes a Christian audience; quite a few concepts just don’t translate. I drew from my experience as an administrator working for Muslim nonprofits. I even got a chance to facilitate a few sessions, which was pretty cool!
After I graduated from undergrad, I worked as a legal assistant at a law firm in Chicago for about a year. I transitioned to working full-time as an administrative assistant at an Islamic school and then went back and earned my master’s degree in religious studies. I considered chaplaincy, but then found a job as an administrative manager at a Muslim community organization in the Chicago suburbs.
When I moved to Indianapolis, I found my way to Lake Institute through the Office of International Affairs. It’s been great. I didn’t think my background in economics and religious studies would ever come together, but it’s interesting to see how they’ve converged here.
Anne Brock (AB): I also serve as a program manager. Like Rafia, I manage a portion of our ECRF and CGC courses, working directly with the partners who host the courses, communicating with them and ensuring that they have everything they need.
In addition, I manage Lake Institute’s marketing and communications efforts, so I work on and distribute Insights, our twice-a-month newsletter.
I also do quite a bit of event planning for our public programs, like the annual Lake Lecture.
Prior to earning my job here, I worked as a youth minister for 14 years. When it was time to leave that field, I knew I wanted to have some connection with a faith-based organization.
Interestingly, the longer I’ve been here, the more I connect the work we do here with what I did before. For example, when we raised money for mission trips, I created a visual to show donors where their money was actually going, which is important to illustrate in fundraising.
What do you enjoy most about working with this team?
CK: We know each other’s skill sets well, so we’re able to work well together and complete what we need to complete.
RK: I think we have fun. We’re always laughing.
AB: We definitely have different personalities, but we get along well and know that everyone else is doing their best and working hard.
CK: I appreciate working with smart people. Likely I will not be the smartest person in the room, but I know that if I’m the expert in an area of focus, the team relies on me to play that role.
RK: Our achievements and life milestones are celebrated as well. I performed hajj last year, and wrote about it for Insights! Unlikely that would have happened at most other organizations. I love writing, and I appreciate receiving the invitation to reflect on my spiritual experiences as part of my work here. I’ve also had opportunities to conduct research here, like co-authoring the chapter on Giving to Religion for Giving USA and presenting my research at ARNOVA last year.
AB: Agreed. Our supervisors are really good about making sure we have work that fulfills us. I get to write and design, which is exciting for me. We’re encouraged to follow our passions, even if it’s not overtly named in our job descriptions.
What are the strengths of your team members?
RK: Anne does a lot of things well, but I admire her organizational skills. Curtis is always super helpful with any questions I have about the school’s organization, how it functions, etc.
AB: Rafia is thoughtful, not only in her relationships, but also in how she responds. She takes the time to consider the details, projects, and people involved. Curtis is connected; he connects us to other members of the school and brings joy to those relationships.
CK: Regarding Rafia, I agree with what Anne said. Also, she’s not afraid to be constructive. If she has thoughts on something, she’s going to share it in a pensive manner.
With Anne, I appreciate the care and thoughtfulness she puts into her work. She has high expectations for not only her work, but others as well.
What are your goals for Lake Institute, and yourself in your position, in the future?
AB: I see Lake becoming more and more well-known in the faith and giving world. I’d like to continue to grow our influence, and share more of Lake and the great work we’re doing with the world.
For me, I would like to continue to grow Insights and see where that goes.
CK: We’re seeing a rising cultural shift in how people view institutionalized religion, thus seeing more changes in giving and giving to religion. I hope that Lake continues to be on the front edge of those cultural shifts. If we can prepare institutions for changes they’ll need to make, that will be extremely valuable.
I would like to personally become more involved in helping manage our grant portfolio.
RK: For my own role, I’d love to continue working on research, and being more efficient in my job.
I would like to see Lake have a greater institutional presence in faith communities outside of mainline Protestant institutions. We are working towards that, but I’d like to see our role evolve more.
For the school as a whole, I would love to see us focus more on grassroots efforts. Thinking about philanthropy as the love for fellow human beings, it can’t be limited to just the wealthy. Communities that don’t have a lot of financial wealth have many other “riches” and what they bring to the table are just as important, if not more.
Looking at it from a faith perspective, how can we include in our narratives people who don’t have a lot of financial resources and yet are still inspired by their faith in the many ways that they give? It’s not as easy to quantify. But it’s important to share these stories as well.
Did you enjoy this series on Lake Institute’s staff? Leave a comment below, and tell us what you think!