Augsburg Fortress
One Mission Blog - reflections on the ministry of publishing

Bet you didn’t know….AF receives no funding except through sales

January 24th, 2012 by Beth A. Lewis

This morning, I asked my colleagues on our superb Customer Care team (they really are superb….caring, knowledgable, and they work reallly hard!) what I should write about for this "Bet you didn't know…." blog series.  The first answer they gave really surprised me because it is something that we have been talking openly about for the entire 9+ years that I have been at Augsburg Fortress!  But, then again….everyone is subject to information overload, so I guess I might have known that even though it feels like I've said it a thousand times, some of our customers and partners in ministry haven't heard it.  So, I'll say it again here….the number one bit of misinformation heard by our  Customer Care team

I'll bet you didn't know that Augsburg Fortress receives no funding from the ELCA's budget!  

Yes, if you look in the ELCA's constitution, you'll find that we exist as a separately incorporated ministry of the ELCA.  But, we do not receive any funding to create such dynamic faith formation resources as Spark Sunday School or the re:form collection of youth ministry resources or even the 100+ Book of Faith resources that we have created in support of the ELCA's Book of Faith Initiative!   

Augsburg Fortress is a ministry of publishing.  Almost everyone who works at AF is here because we have a strong sense of mission.  We feel called to proclaim the Gospel through publishing….in traditional ink on paper formats, via web-based subscription resources, through delivery of content via eBooks, through video and more!  We serve the ELCA as well as people and congregations in other denominations through three imprints:  Augsburg Fortress (primarily serving Lutheran congregations), Fortress Press (serving higher education and people who want to read books about religion & theology), and sparkhouse, our 2 1/2 year old ecumenical division serving mainline and progressive evangelical congregations.  

But, Augsburg Fortress is not only a ministry of publishing….we are also a not-for-profit business of publishing.  This means that like secular, for-profit publishers, we must make sometimes challenging business decisions.  We must decide where to focus our limited human and financial resources not only to create great resources for the church, but also for a decent return on investment so that we will have the resources to invest to create the next wave of great resources!  We pay careful attention to essentials that face all businesses: cash flow, revenue stream, inventory levels, staffing,managing rising health insurance costs, the need to invest in a robust IT infrastructure, etc.  And, we pay attention to the particular issues facing all publishers these days:  the "both/and" balancing act between ink on paper and digital resources (and no, digital resources are not less expensive than paper….but, that's a topic for another blog post), concerns about the proliferation of free resources via the Internet, concerns about copyright infringement (sometimes with those free resources on the Internet!), the proliferation of social media outlets that people use for informaiton gathering and information overload that makes it hard for us to help people who would be interested in our resources learn of their availability.    

We value our partnerships with our colleagues throughout the ELCA….in congregations, synods, resource centers, colleges, campus ministries, outdoor ministries, seminaries, the churchwide organization, etc.  We love hearing from people in all of these institutions about what resources they need to support their respective ministries.  We listen for themes and then make sometimes hard decisions about where to invest our human and financial resources because we simply don't have the time and money to create every single item that every person across the ELCA wants us to create.  Sadly, sometimes this becomes a bit of a point of contention.  But, it is the reality of making good ministry and business decisions in support of the largest number of people possible with an eye toward sustainabillity of Augsburg Fortress, Fortress Press and sparkhouse for the future.  Not because the institution needs to be sustained for its own sake, but for the sake of proclaiming the Gospel, assisting leaders with creating superb worship experiences, and teaching children, youth and adults about our faith.  That's the sustainabillity concern for us.  

But, I think being a ministry unit of the ELCA that receives no funding is actually a very good thing.  We can not be complacent.  We MUST constantly strive to improve our focus, the quality of the resources we create to really work in the real world, and we must actively listen to our various constituents in order to effectively compete in this challenging world of publishing.   I think the fact that we are both a ministry and a business (doesn't that both/and sound Lutheran?) is a plus for the church!

So, what does this lack of financial support of Augsburg Fortress  from the ELCA churchwide budget mean in your corner of the world? 

Well, if you want us to be here in the future and keep creating great resources for your ministry, we need for you to be intentional about supporting us….when we are competitive in terms of quality, price and service.  This doesn't mean that you should blindly purchase anything and everything that we publish.  

What is means is that when you are making a decision about buying a ministry resource….new music for worship or curriculum for a new summer children's faith formation program or a new high school Bible study curriculum or a new textbook for your class on The Gospels, we would invite and encourage you to look to us.  If (and only if) we have something that is high quality and competitively priced, we would ask that you support this ministry and business of the church through your purchases.  If you can't find what you need, contact us!  Congregations all across the USA have an assigned Congregational Resource Representative (listed here).  Our fine Customer Care team is only as far away as email or the phone at 800-328-4648.  Our websites for Augsburg Fortress, sparkhouse and Fortress Press are being improved every single week.  And, we are available via many social media outlets.  And, if you just can't figure out who to ask about something related to our ministry and business, contact me!  I'm always happy to hear from you.   Email is the best way to reach me.  

So, if you were under the impression that Augsburg Fortress should be producing a particular item because you put money in the offering plate at your church that flows to your synod that flows to the churchwide budget and then somehow to Augsburg Fortress,  I hope this blog post clarifies that bit of misinformation for you.  (and please feel free to share this post with others!)  

Special thanks to my Customer Care colleagues for suggesting this blog post!  And, special thanks to each of you who helps us on our path of continuous improvement as both a business and a ministry of publishing. 





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Beth A. Lewis, President & CEO Augsburg Fortress

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