Archived Voice Articles
Staff Profile: Lyle Gritters ends thirty-six years of promoting the mission of Dordt College
By Sally Jongsma
Lyle Gritters always emphasized that his job was much bigger than asking for money. His goal and challenge was to help people understand the importance of supporting Christian institutions such as Dordt College.
Most people shrink at the thought of asking others for money. But for thirty-six years it’s been Lyle Gritters’ career. As vice president for college advancement, the job of fund raising wasn’t always easy, but neither did Gritters shrink from the responsibility. In fact, as he prepares to retire this summer he looks back with fondness and appreciation on the opportunities it presented.
“When you see how Dordt College serves the kingdom of God, you realize that you aren’t asking for yourself or even just for the institution. You’re asking people to help build Christ’s kingdom,” Gritters says. For him, that was motivating rather than intimidating.
And he’s been successful. “Forward Thrust,” “25th Anniversary,” “Heritage 21,” “New Horizons,” “Dordt 2000,” and the Campus Center Campaigns have all come and gone, as have Fall Drives and Spring Debt Reduction Drives. The millions of dollars raised have allowed Dordt College to have a significant impact on thousands of people across North America and around the world.
What started out as a one-man office has now grown to a staff of fourteen. In recent years, Gritters has spent as much time planning stewardly and effective ways to find that support as he did actually raising it. But one thing remained constant and important: he and his staff are first of all promoting the mission of the college, sharing its vision, and creating a better understanding of the needs, challenges, and opportunities it faces. They ask for prayers and moral support as well as gift support.
But fund raising was only one side of Gritters’ job. Alumni and church, as well as general public relations, also fall under his supervision. All have developed and grown under his leadership.
Gritters came to Dordt in 1969 from Bell Telephone, young and inexperienced but convinced that Dordt was an institution worth working for. Then President B.J. Haan thought it was time to start a fund raising and public relations office for what was the decade-old institution. Gritters is still grateful for the mentoring he received from Haan during the thirteen years they worked together. Gritters says he gained from Haan not only an understanding of a deep-seated Reformed worldview, but also of a way of treating people with love and respect, even in conflict situations. Those lessons have remained with him.
Development as a profession was in its infancy when Gritters arrived, especially at small Christian organizations like Dordt College. Almost all financial support came through churches, and funds were often collected by young people in the congregations. Gritters thought the new position sounded challenging and exciting, and he began the work of building relationships with people across the country.
“I was comfortable with the job from the start, but as I learned more about Dordt’s institutional mission and vision, raising support for the college became my passion,” he says. That feeling continued to grow.
The event that most shaped him and the way he gave leadership in the advancement office was the so-called AACS crisis in the early 1970s. “It helped me understand what Dordt College was—and is—and clarified my role in the institution,” he says. That role, he believes, is to provide support for the educational mission of the college. An advancement mission statement, for which he was primary author, describes advancement’s role as one of building supportive relationships between the college and its constituents. Constituents are co-workers in providing Christian higher education, Gritters believes.
“I’ve come to see that what we do with our financial resources is an important barometer of how we live out our faith,” Gritters says. In his experience, people often want to be challenged and given an opportunity to be part of the educational process.
“I saw my job as giving people an opportunity to help them grow in their understanding of how God calls them to share their resources for the benefit of his kingdom,” Gritters says. And he emphasized that that call is broader than Dordt College.
“All of us are sensitive about our money. We need to come to our own understanding of our responsibility,” he believes. That meant Gritters spent his time convincing supporters of the importance of kingdom causes, not trying to talk them into the biggest possible gift or making them feel guilty for not giving enough.
“My greatest joy has been to have people thank me for presenting needs in a way that taught them to give—and often to give more than they thought they could.”
“Dordt has enjoyed incredible blessings,” Gritters says, but as satisfying as such responses have been, they are not as satisfying as seeing how effective Dordt College has been in passing on its vision. As he and his staff visit people across North America, they hear this testimony from alumni and supporters and see it in the way many constituents live their lives. The result has been a tremendous network of friends for the institution—many of whom Gritters also counts as personal friends, people who share a vision for Dordt College and Christ’s kingdom. He says he has also learned from their loyalty and commitment to supporting kingdom causes and from their example as they live out their faith.
Although meeting the fund raising goals set by the institution was usually challenging and sometime stressful, Gritters learned to be confident that God would bless his staff’s efforts.
And they were blessed. He will always remember the first major fund raising campaign, “Forward Thrust,” for the chapel—now the B.J. Haan Auditorium.
“It was the first building we tried to raise money for and there was a lot of controversy over whether we should move ahead. It was a gratifying experience to receive literally hundreds of first-time gifts from people across North America,” he says looking back. That successful campaign fulfilled Haan’s dream for a chapel/auditorium and laid the foundation for the many future projects that Gritters would spearhead over his many years at Dordt College.
Advancement Mission Statement
Dordt College can exist only if it has a constituency that seeks its educational services and supports the institution through prayers, gifts and other support. God blesses the work of the college through constituents who use the services of the college and who support the college.