Atlanta historically Black seminary expects largest-ever single donation

Donation is not expected to ease the institution’s immediate needs
The Interdenominational Theological Center was founded in 1958. CONTRIBUTED

The Interdenominational Theological Center was founded in 1958. CONTRIBUTED

Atlanta’s Interdenominational Theological Center is one of 37 HBCUs to receive a share of a pooled endowment as part of a major $100 million unrestricted grant but the money is unlikely to provide much immediate relief for the school’s dire financial needs.

The “7-figure” gift will represent the largest single contribution in the institution’s history, according to a post on ITC’s Facebook page. It is coming from the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) through a grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc. The amount of the gift to ITC has not been released by UNCF.

Last week, the United Negro College Fund announced during an event in Atlanta it received a $100 million unrestricted grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc. The UNCF plans to use the money to create a pooled endowment fund to be shared by 37 HBCUs nationwide, including ITC.

While the funds come at a critical time in ITC’s history, that gift alone is not likely to resolve the theological center’s immediate financial difficulties.

”Those dollars will help us on an annual basis to reach our budget and we’re grateful,” said Calvin E. Booker Sr., chairman of the center’s board of trustees.

In a previous interview, Booker said the school needs about $4 million a year, once everything is streamlined.

“We do have a plan in place to make it sustainable,” he said in the interview. “We have over $12 million worth of assets in buildings and land but we are cash broke.”

Starting in March of next year, UNCF will make annual payouts from the endowment earnings that the schools can use as they wish, on anything from faculty salaries to scholarships, Michael L. Lomax, the UNCF’s president and CEO said in a previous article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Lomax said the aim is to eventually provide about $1 million a year in unrestricted funding to each school through that and other support from the organization.

Last year, the ITC — a consortium of several seminaries tied to various denominations — announced it was facing a financial crisis, plagued by declining enrollment and a lack of operational revenue.

It undertook corrective actions including staff reductions and pausing its master’s degree program.

Currently, there are about 60 students, down from a peak of 400 in the early 2000s.

The Rev. Maisha I. K. Handy, ITC’s recently named interim president, said in a previous interview the center needed about $2.5 million to regain its financial footing through the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. Handy is the first woman to lead the institution and has aggressively sought to raise funds for the center.

“ITC has always been a key component of the fabric of Atlanta,” a spokesman for the mayor’s office said via email. He said the administration has been in touch with the center’s leadership and is exploring potential ways to help.

ITC’s footprint in Black churches and communities has been an important one. Its graduates have gone on to lead Black churches, hold top positions in mainline Christian denominations, become chaplains and held leadership roles in nonprofits and communities.

The ITC was chartered in 1958 through the efforts of several seminaries, which are institutions that provide a theological education for students to prepare them as pastors and for other forms of ministry. Today, the center is comprised of Gammon Theological Seminary, Charles H. Mason Theological Seminary, Phillips School of Theology, Turner School of Theology and a fellowship.

Education reporter Vanessa McCray contributed to this article.