Five Keys to a Sustainable Development Program

Five Keys to a Sustainable Development Program

By Peter de Keratry, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Petrus Development

By now, most of us know that without a solid financial foundation the ability to survive, let alone thrive as a ministry, is tremendously difficult. At the same time, we know that one of most important methods of building a solid financial foundation comes from a sustainable development program. Instead of relying solely on weekly offerings, annual financial support from a diocese, or project-specific fundraisers for events such as mission trips or retreats, the investment in a sustainable development program not only advances the mission of Catholic ministry but also can exponentially expand the capacity of an organization to reach more people, more effectively.

Among the many moving parts of a sustainable development program, there are five key elements that lead an organization to success: Leadership, Development Plan, Case for Support, Communications, and Major Gift Solicitation.


Leadership for a Catholic development program consists of staff and volunteers who are people of faith, passionate about ministry, and supportive through prayer, service and stewardship.
Director – The Director must view development as an essential program that complements the mission of the ministry. He/She must also be committed to spend a significant portion of time making visits, cultivating relationships and asking for money.
Advisory Council- Recruiting people of great faith, affluence and influence to lead your development efforts is one of the most influential components in your overall program. Advisory Council members should financially invest in your mission, assist in identifying benefactors and help ask for gifts.
Development Staff – A development director orchestrates the development program by creating a comprehensive fundraising plan to support the mission and mobilizing a team to implement the plan.
Consultant – A consultant brings expertise, structure, accountability and strategic guidance to a development program to the many parts of an organization come together in a way that maximizes philanthropic investment.
Every member of the leadership team must have a good understanding of business management and apply the skills of fiscal responsibility to all aspects of the development program.

A Development Plan

Ideally an organization should have a strategic plan in place that is understood and embraced by staff, volunteer leadership, diocesan leadership, community or university leaders and constituents. A successful development plan flows from that strategic vision and addresses how the organization will raise funds for existing and proposed programs and services on an annual basis. The plan should include strategies, timelines, budgets and methodologies for a stewardship plan, an annual fund plan, a major gifts program, capital projects and a planned giving program. Further, it should detail responsible parties and include measurable results.

A Case for Support

A successful development program articulates an inspiring vision of the importance of your ministry and how you organization is uniquely positioned to make an impact on those you serve, the community and the Church. This vision must be presented in a compelling way. The case for support serves as a written document that “makes the case” for a prospective benefactor to want to give to your organization. It’s a powerful communication tool to ensure that your staff and volunteers can clearly articulate your vision. It often serves as the document from which direct mail copy, media releases and newsletter articles are built to ensure a consistent message to the community.


An effective communications program will attract people to your organization and keep your benefactors well informed. While there are numerous ways to communicate the good work you do, the most important methods of communication include the following; professional marketing materials, fundraising brochures, newsletters, and online tools that include a current website, social networking outlets such as Facebook, and e-newsletters. A communications plan should address how to articulate your message in a concise way, a timeline and what methods you will use to reach various demographics and constituencies.

Major Gifts Solicitation

It all comes down to this. It is imperative that leadership identifies a large number of prospective benefactors and personally meets with them to request financial support. The Director, the Development Director and volunteers must possess the ability and confidence to make the calls, get the appointment, communicate the vision and ask for a specific gift amount at the right time. Studies have shown time and again that the number one reason people give to a particular institution is because someone asked them! The more often you ask for a gift the more money you will receive to build the capacity of your organization. Dream big and don’t forget to ask!!!

Peter L. de Keratry, CFRE, MA is co-founder and CEO of Petrus Development. He has over 20 years of professional development experience especially with leadership roles for campaigns ranging from $1 million to $280 million. Peter is passionate about helping Catholic organizations create and build sustainable development programs.