The Visit that Taught me Three Basic Principles of Development

The Visit that Taught me Three Basic Principles of Development

By Andrew Robison,  President of Petrus Development 

This post is an excerpt from the Fundraising Focus series presented by the Catholic Campus Ministry Association (CCMA).

Many years ago, I was sitting in a donor meeting with my boss at the time, Greg Gorman, and a major benefactor for St. Mary’s Catholic Center at Texas A&M University. Pat and her husband had recently made a $50,000 gift to the Foundations in Faith capital campaign so this was a stewardship visit to bring her up to speed on the progress of the campaign. I remember Greg asked Pat a question, or maybe it was more of a statement to the effect of, “Pat, for you to make a gift of this size, you must have had a really wonderful experience at St. Mary’s when you were in school at A&M.”

Her response has stayed with me for many years and I still share it with development directors and chaplains today. Pat looked directly at Greg and said, “No, I really didn’t. I attended A&M for four years and you guys totally missed me. And to be honest, that’s why we gave this gift…so that students coming through the university today don’t have the same experience that I had 20 years ago.” Wow! In her response to Greg, Pat demonstrated to me three of the most basic principles of development work.

First, we never know who our donors are going to be. Some of our donors have wonderful experiences during their time with us and some do not. When we write off certain individuals as prospective benefactors because we make assumptions of how they will respond, we do those individuals a massive disservice. Everyone deserves the chance to learn about our ministries and be presented with opportunities to support it and make a difference for today’s students.

Second, a benefactor’s philanthropic journey doesn’t start when the development director calls them for coffee. It starts the first day they walk through your doors. Now, fortunately, Pat was able to move beyond a negative experience and see the benefits of lending her support today but not everyone can do that. By treating every student, parent and guest that comes to your program with your highest level of attention and helping them find a faithful home and a community of friends, you are paving the way for a brighter and more effective campus ministry program down the road.

Lastly, it is critical that we get to know our donors and ask them questions about why they support our programs. Greg and I both thought we knew what had moved Pat to give a very generous gift to the campaign, but by investing time in the relationship and asking her to share her story with us, we learned so much more. And in this example, Pat’s story made an impression on me that will stay with me for a lifetime.

(In Episode 4 of The Petrus Development Show, Tara Doyon discusses the importance of knowing your donors. Listen to the episode at

Key Task This Month

Reach out to one of your benefactors who has made a difference at your ministry and ask them why they support your ministry. You will be amazed at the “why answers” that people give. Plus, by asking those “why questions”, you will be reminding them of their motivations for supporting your ministry and that is never a bad thing at all.

Make it a great month!

Andrew N. Robison is President of Petrus Development. He has worked for over 13 years in development roles in Catholic campus ministry, higher education and academic medicine. Andrew works with organizations of all sizes to build sustainable development programs that allow them to better serve their constituencies.

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