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One Hundred Percent - An Interview with Bryan Wilburn

In this episode, Andrew visits with Bryan Wilburn, the Director of Development at the St. Paul Catholic Newman Center at North Dakota State University in Fargo, North Dakota. They discuss how Bryan got his start in development and what they are doing to advance Catholic evangelism on the plains of North Dakota. As well as how being a great development officer can make you a better spouse. We hope that you enjoy the conversation and be sure to stick around for Andrew's three takeaways.

Show Notes:


Bryan is from Montana and went to college in North Dakota. His time there depended his faith. After college, he devoted four years to FOCUS. As for development, he started in development during a college internship. And fundraising for himself for his time in FOCUS. 

He has been back in North Dakota for six years. Fr. Cheney brought him on as a Sustained Giving Officer, helping to build monthly giving partners for the Newman Center. After one year, he became involved with the Newman Center's Capital Campaign. He became the Development Director when his predecessor moved on. 

It's not prideful to say, I've learned what I need to learn to this point, and I can go up against other qualified candidates with a good chance of achieving. When we feel like we have more to offer, go for it. 


Capital Campaign

The building was breaking down and they needed to do something as they were growing their ministry every year. The feasibility study started in 2013 and they learned that people didn't know what they did. That was a great lead to think of ways to get the word out about what they did in college ministry. 

They hadn't been keeping records of names of students who had gone through their ministry, so they were starting from scratch when they launched their campaign. 

While they met their goal, the year of 2020 was a challenging year to finish up their campaign in. 


Donor Meeting

A donor meeting with a couple who weren't actually Catholic, but they were big believers in the university and Bryan remembers him saying "We are here to help the whole world know Jesus Christ." And they became benefactors to the campaign. 


Toast Masters

Learning to communicate, just because you talk all the time, doesn't mean you communicate well. A great organization that taught him to speak to large audiences, keynote speaking, event leadership, etc. 

He has been able to gain valuable feedback on his speaking and testing talks that he wants to use for his fundraising. 


Relational vs Transactional Fundraising

People assume that fundraising is sales. If you do it wrong, it will definitely feel like sales and very transactional. 

It can be similar to dating.  You wouldn't ask a girl for marriage on the first date, just like you wouldn't ask a donor for a major gift on the first interaction. There is a relational aspect that you need to grow and nurture. 

Marriage advice: call your wife. 


Lessons of Looking Back

  • You have to know when to move on with certain people you are reaching out to. 
  • You really don't know until you talk to somebody how they feel about it. 
  • When you are asking for those types of gifts, you need to be able to move on to donors that are interested. 
  • If you are going to launch into a campaign, you need people to reach out to that will get the ball rolling. 
  • Don't underestimate what can happen when you get out and start talking to people about the campaign.


Family - Work Balance

Family has to come first. It will look different for every family, but they need to come first. When he first started in development, he and his wife had to make sure that it was something they both wanted. 

When you can give the heads up as far in advance as possible, it will make things so much better. Bryan treated his wife like a major donor from the very beginning, and never looked back. 


Lightening Round

  1. If you could fund-raise for any organization or cause at any point in history, what would it be?
    • Rural parishes 
  2. If you could get a donor meeting with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
    • Carson West of the Philadelphia Eagles (the Justin Beiber of the midwest)
  3. Is there enough money out there for every organization that's doing good work?
    • Yes! If you have a cause worth supporting. 
  4. What is one piece of advice that you would give your past self?
    • You can't take anything personal. 
  5. Who are 3 people who have most influenced you, professionally?
    • Kyle Yeager, Molly Chapman of FOCUS, Bryan's Dad
  6. What is one fact about Bryan that most people don’t know?
    • Bryan did Karate for years 7-16 of his life. And won some medals at the Montana Olympics.

If you would like to connect with Bryan, you can reach out to him at: or [email protected] or call him at 701-730-0936


Andrew's Take-Aways:

  1. Bryan made a great point about not being afraid to ask your existing donors to support you with additional gifts. He had some great stories about building the monthly giving program and then turning around and inviting those same donors to help fund the capital campaign. He is totally right though that people that give regularly or even monthly to your ministry are typically some of your biggest advocates and want to see you succeed. Inviting them into gifts for specific projects makes a lot of sense. I always advise clients to keep your monthly donors on your annual appeals because I have seen on many many occasions, people set up a recurring gift and then also send in an end of year gift on top of that. So whether its the Christmas appeal or a capital campaign don’t be afraid to ask your existing donors for new gifts. 
  2. Don’t be afraid to apply for promotions, raises or new jobs as you progress in your career. The truth is that if you are successful in your fundraising job, you have to practice a fair amount of humility, but don’t let that prevent you from thinking that you can’t ask for a promotion or raise or that you aren’t qualified to apply for new jobs when the opportunities are there. Personally, I have been in fundraising for over 15 years and received a number of promotions at the places I worked, and have moved up the ladder by applying for new positions. I didn't get them all, but that was part of the process and I never let it get me down. You have to bloom where you are planted but don't think that you can’t also flourish in a new and more challenging environment if you have what it takes.
  3. I loved Bryan’s analogy of major gift fundraising as a similar exercise as the act of dating. You have to be intentional about investing in your development relationships in much the same way you have to invest in your romantic relationships. Don’t propose marriage on the first date. Don’t have a great date and then never call back and ask for a second date. And don’t take your relationships for granted and stop sending notes, checking in and asking to take it to the next level. 

I hope that this was helpful to you for a number of reasons, but mostly so that you can be a better and more confident fundraiser and raise more money for your ministry. If you have questions, you can always reach us at [email protected], we’d love to connect. Our next couple of episodes will be a slightly different format in that we are doing a four-part series on what a blueprint for sustainable development looks like. Myself and others on the Petrus team will cover the four areas of infrastructure, communications, annual fund and major gifts over the next few weeks. Whether you are brand new, or you've been doing this for a while, I have no doubt that you’ll find something of value in this series. So check those episodes out and share them with your colleagues. But until then, God bless and keep calling your donors (and your significant others) and making the ask.


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