Erone Oliphant, Advancement and Marketing Manager of Helderberg College, interviewed by Penny Brink
Challenges and Opportunities Facing Adventist Institutions.
1. How did you come to be the Advancement and Marketing manager at the college?
As a Helderberg College graduate, I’ve always had the desire to give back to the college in a meaningful way. I thought this would be in the form of a financial contribution, or even lecturing a subject or two in my spare time. Little did I know it would be by sharing knowledge and experience gained in the corporate sector in my duties now as an employee of the college. When I received an invitation for a job interview, I was already secure and very happy working as a marketing executive. I prayed earnestly and sought advice from close friends about this seemingly career-ending move. After all, who leaves a promising future in the corporate sector to join a small, private, academic institution? Furthermore, I am a fairly bubbly, bold, and eccentric person, not entirely a match for academia! But here I am. It seems I have found my way back to my alma mater. When I look at my journey since graduation, working for some of the biggest global advertising agencies as well as the number-one retailer on the African continent, I see how God’s hand has led me from company to company, equipping me with a skill set that will help me fulfill my current job requirements. It's only been a few months since joining the staff at Helderberg, but through God's grace, it’s been an incredibly challenging, motivating, and undeniably thrilling experience. I’m truly excited to help forge a new path for the college.
2. Why does an Adventist institution need a marketing and fund-raising person?
Many would argue that we should not need a dedicated marketing or even a fund-raising person, saying it should fall on each of the staff members and students to be ambassadors and marketers for the institution. While I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment, there needs to be a vision along with strategizing and planning in order for the staff and students to have something to be ambassadors for. Let’s look at marketing on its own for a second. When I worked for Africa’s top retailer, we’d often sit in meetings where marketing was considered an expense and not an investment. We had to quickly remind other departments that without the cleverly crafted and timeous campaigns, our incredible products might be less noticed amid the chaos. I regard all marketing this way. Whether it is for retail or education, it is important to showcase the product so that the audience is aware of their options. It sounds simple enough, but an incredible amount of research, time, and creativity are required for one to stand out from an already saturated education market. Money is a necessary tool to keep our doors open. Unfortunately, as with most Adventist institutions across the world, we have to be self-sufficient and not rely on government subsidies, as public institutions do. When I look at the financial needs of Helderberg College and then at the sources of our income, it is clear that we need a fund-raising person. The core purpose of the fund-raising part of my portfolio is to focus on strategies, programs, and requirements for gathering the funds we need. Because we are stewards of this institution, it is our duty to be diligent, responsible keepers of God’s trust.
One of my favorite projects includes converting one of our vacant buildings into a conference center that will also serve as a church for some of our language groups on campus. Before I embark on raising funds for this project, I have to do research on the viability of this project. This includes cost implications, location, and legal requirements. Once this research has been done, I plan to move forward with approaching various donors, offering them an incentive for their investment. Once the funds have been secured, the project can commence. During the project, reports, updates, and timelines are prepared to keep all the donors informed. This, in a nutshell, is the practical application of a project where fund raising is required.
3. What are the categories of financial need at this college?
There are roughly three main categories of financial need for Helderberg College: student tuition and services, campus maintenance and restoration, and expansion and development. Student tuition would include student fees, library resources, student facilities, and student internship programs. Campus maintenance refers to the regular upkeep of the campus grounds and facilities, health and safety, and upgrades. Expansion and development includes academic programs that should be expanded or added, and developments on campus to facilitate an increase in student numbers and offer important additional streams of income.
Initially, I thought our college was in a unique situation; but after some research, it seems Adventist colleges all over the world face the same troubles we do. I truly wish we could initiate a global conference where all advancement and development directors and managers come together to brainstorm and compile a feasible roll-out plan that could assist Adventist colleges worldwide. Wouldn't that be a great idea? Putting all our heads together to solve an issue we all seem to face!
4. What, in your opinion, is the college’s biggest asset?
My father taught me to consider both property and knowledge to be fairly incredible assets. Providentially, we have both at Helderberg. The college is situated on the lower slopes of the beautiful Helderberg mountains. It is a large farm that was established as a college and now, nearly 90 years later (at this location), we still enjoy breathtaking views and easy access to mountain hikes. Since this is a prime piece of land in the community, we need to make this valuable asset work for us. Second, knowledge is our next best asset. Between our current students from various backgrounds and our alumni with incomparable life experience, we have a wealth of knowledge. I love to learn from those who have walked before; therefore, one of my first focus areas in this new role will be to tap into this, our other most valuable asset.
5. Do you feel that we have kept to the model that Ellen White encouraged for Adventist education? If not, why not?
I think there are various factors to look at here. The teaching framework, the environment, the values, the community ties, and even the students we enroll. As with most parts of the church, we adapt over the years to ensure that we are relevant. We are always striving to be faithful to our goals as an Adventist institution.
6. How do you think we could fit into that model again in a modern context?
That’s quite a loaded question, and I’m not sure it can be answered simply. There are fundamentals in place that Ellen White addresses, and these are the foundation for all our Adventist institutes. The first step would be laying that foundation again, confirming the basis for the institution’s existence. Next would be to assess the immediate environment and acknowledge how the foundation exists in reality. In addition to that, implementation models for a renewed goal should be set.
One way to implement the original model, I believe, would be a functioning work-study program. Helderberg College focuses on wholistic education, and working forms a part of the wholistic, competent graduate vision. In previous years, working on the campus included farm work, or what students these days refer to as hard labor. Although these do add value, I would focus on a more modern contribution to society. Students should be given opportunities to work in sectors that are related to their studies, where they can generate an income to support their studies, and where they can positively contribute to society. I would love to see a campus where students work to support themselves rather than relying fully on sponsors. After all, Genesis 2:15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (NIV).
This is certainly not easy to achieve and takes time to implement, but we also have this really amazing little thing called faith. God will always lead and provide if we rely on Him for all the needs of our Adventist institutions. God will always bless His institution; we just need to do our part and be true to the God-given foundation.
7. What would you like to say to parents of future students at Adventist institutions?
There is a need for a place where students are not only educated to handle life on this earth but also a place where their characters can be prepared for the life above. Adventist institutions aim to make that happen. Even with all our shortcomings, that purpose will always be at the forefront of the mission.
View the interview on https://vimeo.com/206471444