A job ad in his denomination's magazine in 1997 caught Jim Cullumber's eye. He applied on a whim and was hired as the Christian Church Foundation's vice president of communications.

With 17 years as a newspaper reporter and editor, Cullumber was comfortable with the marketing and communications responsibilities. As a son of a pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and a youth group leader, he was excited to put his skills to work for his church.

“The newspaper business is very cut-and-dried,” Cullumber says. “By being at the foundation, I'm able to work with people interested in the church.”

He liked being able to help those who were helping others. What he didn't anticipate was the other role he'd soon be filling. About the time he started his new job, the foundation's meeting planner retired, and the “new kid” got the duties.

“When I was first told to do meeting planning, I questioned my sanity in taking the job,” he jokes. But he has found that he likes it because it “uses a whole new set of skills.”

Gaining Insight

When he took on the meeting planning duties, he had never talked to hotels and knew nothing about meeting planning, he says. Fortunately, Howard Dentler, an RCMA founder and Christian Church executive, urged Cullumber to join RCMA. He was able to attend one or two meetings before he had to plan his first expo.

“I found the tutorials so helpful in getting me to even start asking the right questions as a meeting planner,” Cullumber says of the RCMA World Conference and Expo in his home base of Indianapolis in 1998. “The tutorials still are the No. 1 way to gain up-to-date information on trends in the industry.”

In fact, the tutorials provided the groundwork so that Cullumber could feel he could “at least survive in this area.”

Cullumber plans more than 15 gatherings during the year, ranging from an annual conference for about 70 people to single-event programs for donors and friends throughout the country.

The Christian Church Foundation is a general ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) whose primary mission is in the areas of giving and development. The church includes some 800,000 members in about 3,700 congregations in the United States and Canada. The foundation works with congregations in raising money, as well as in distributing of gifts. In 2000, the foundation gave more than $11 million to Disciples-related ministries and organizations.

Varied Audiences

Cullumber coordinates meetings for many audiences, including donors, but also for ministers and church leaders to teach them about planned giving. The annual winter conference includes development officers of the denomination and is usually held in a Southern state where church leaders can hook up with their “snow-bird” donors, Cullumber said.

Of course, that's where every meeting and conference wants to go in winter, so finding the appropriate property within the foundation's budget is a challenge.

“Because the donors we work with have a level of affluence, we want to put our best face forward. At the events donors attend, we treat them with the respect they deserve,” Cullumber says. “Most of our donors are common folk, but at the same time, they like niceties.”

Foundation board meetings are held at home in Indianapolis and around the country. The denomination is strongest in Texas, Oklahoma, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas, according to Cullumber.

In April, Cullumber was visiting Corpus Christi, completing a contract for the foundation's next annual meeting in January. That condensed time frame is becoming the norm. “Working 18 months or more out doesn't seem to work as well for me with my smaller meetings. Some hotels don't want to commit space for these types of meetings that far out.” He believes the economy is driving that trend.

Cullumber is also a new RCMA board member. He hopes to bring the small-meeting perspective to the board, because there are “so many vendors and events geared to the big events,” he said. “Small meetings play a vital role. Even mega-churches say small interactions keep people together.”