By Kim Plummer Krull
When Concordia University Chicago, River Forest, Ill., students were asked to pick an organization and develop a campaign for that organization as part of a marketing-class project, their choices included an animal shelter, a fine-arts theater, a women’s softball team and a beer-glass company.
And while those were familiar options, four students chose another organization about which they knew nothing but were drawn to — the Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF).
“We liked that faith is a part of LCEF,” said Natalie Gudel, a junior marketing major. “Why would we not do a program on something that we believe in and that helps spread the word about Christ? It’s a win-win.”
Gudel, a member of Concordia Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, Ind., was among the students from six Concordia University System campuses who participated in the second annual National Student Marketing Competition sponsored by LCEF April 12 at the LCMS International Center in St. Louis.
The teams’ assignment: develop a marketing campaign to raise awareness about LCEF and attract new LCEF investors at the Concordia campuses.
Melissa Merrill, a Concordia University, Irvine, Calif., student, agreed that “trying to come up with ideas” to catch the attention of young people with little knowledge of LCEF and even less money “was pretty challenging.”
But she and her teammates — Angelina Ortiz, Meghan Jones and Caitlin Zank — were up to the challenge, with Concordia, Irvine, winning the top honor for the second year.
Concordia University Texas, Austin, and Concordia University, St. Paul, Minn., took second and third places, respectively. Also participating were Concordia University Chicago; Concordia College—New York, Bronxville, N.Y.; and Concordia University Wisconsin, Mequon. (For more photos and information about the competition, visit lcef.org and facebook.com/mylcef.)
Carolyn Shiery, assistant professor in Concordia, Irvine’s, business school and the winning team’s faculty adviser, called the competition “an invaluable experience.”
“As a team, they jelled as they learned to work together, doing research, compiling statistics and everything else they had to tackle,” Shiery said of the project, which consumed nearly a semester of work by the students.
In addition to crafting campaign slogans and crunching budget numbers, the students “talked about their values and their faith,” said Shiery, a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Orange, Calif. “This was a business experience, but also a personal learning and growth experience that really touched their lives.”
Tapping into young adults
Likewise, LCEF President/CEO Richard C. Robertson told the students that the financial organization that empowers ministry also would benefit, gleaning valuable insights about reaching an important, younger demographic.
Noting that the students lowered the average age at the International Center with a “dramatic shift,” Robertson said in his welcome that LCEF also “wants to have that shift” in drawing young adults.
“We want to perpetuate what we started many, many years ago so that we can truly be that beacon of light for our church that we’re viewed as today and also for the future,” said Robertson, who mingled with the students between their presentations. “I want to tap into all of you and the knowledge that you’re bringing to us.”
The teams included mostly juniors and seniors majoring in business, marketing and communications. The Concordia—New York group also
featured an international mix of students from Lithuania, India and New Jersey.
Kamile Kupcinskaite, a transfer student from Vilnius, Lithuania, said her teammates’ multicultural perspective enabled them to shape their campaign with “different points of view.”
“It is such a neat idea that a church organization could help support people with loans for building a church, for empowering ministry,” Kupcinskaite said.
The Irvine students fashioned their campaign around the theme, “Making a Difference through Stewardship.” Their presentation included research about the percentage of students on their campus unfamiliar with LCEF — 72 percent — and suggested marketing tools from old-fashioned piggy bank giveaways to creating an LCEF mobile app.
Their other promotional suggestions for LCEF: Concordia scholarships, district internships and campus events featuring a sure-fire draw. “Where there’s free food, college students will be there,” Ortiz said.
Several students mentioned they were including the LCEF campaign in resumes and portfolios as they look for internships and jobs. Concordia, St. Paul, senior Mitchell Griffith happily reported that he already had struck pay dirt.
“I talked about the LCEF campaign and how financial education was an issue and the research I had done,” said Griffith, who recently landed a job with Target Corporation as a supply-chain analyst.
On presentation day, Dr. Nancy Harrower, assistant professor and marketing management chair at St. Paul, fielded emails from former students who participated in last year’s competition.
“They want to know how it’s [the competition] going. That’s how much it meant to them,” said Harrower, adding that when those former students were asked to rank their Concordia college experiences, they put the LCEF marketing competition at No. 1.
Becca Jones, LCEF senior vice-president — marketing and customer support, praised all the teams’ presentations as “polished.”
“They were well-rehearsed, and the question-and-answer period directly afterwards was a real test, as they had no idea what might be asked,” said Jones, one of five judges who rated the students on both their verbal presentations and their written plans. “I was impressed with their ability to think on their feet and their confidence in responding.”
Just as the students gained experience, Jones said LCEF will “analyze the possibilities” presented in the marketing plans. Students competing in last year’s inaugural competition stressed the organization’s need for more social media.
“As a result, we re-evaluated our structure/resources, hiring a recent college graduate — from one of the Concordia universities, as a matter of fact — as our social media coordinator,” said Jones, referring to Concordia Texas alumna Brittany Harris.
Along with cash prizes ranging from the $5,000 first-place to $750 participation awards, each team took home the judges’ comment books and a video of their presentation.
Another judge, Steve Bremer, LCEF district vice-president in Kansas and Oklahoma, told the students that the average age of LCEF investors in his districts is in the 70s. He called the young adults “our lifeline.”
With that in mind, perhaps Bremer can feel encouraged knowing that the marketing competition already is reaching out with some success.
Although Ortiz, a member of Bethany Lutheran Church, Menlo Park, Calif., says she was clueless about LCEF until she worked on the campaign, she likes what she learned.
“Now I think I would, in fact, invest with it,” Ortiz said. “It makes sense.”
Kim Plummer Krull is a freelance writer and a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Des Peres, Mo.