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Searching for God's Talent - An Interview with Tom Pagano

In this episode, Andrew visits with Tom Pagano, Co-Founder and Director of Mission Advantage Recruiting, a search firm dedicated to recruiting great talent for the Church. They discuss what it takes to source and hire good talent, what makes a good development officer, what COVID has done to hiring and moving jobs, and how we, as an industry, can find good development officers for the future. If you’ve never given much thought to what it takes to hire, or if you are thinking about your next couple of career moves, this is a great episode for you.

Show Notes:

Tom Pagano is co-founder and Director of Mission Advantage Recruiting.



Lives in New Jersey with his wife and their 3 children. Studied Business and Theology at Franciscan University in Steubenville. Found the world of development and fundraising as well as a passion for missions.

History as Director of Development for multiple Catholic organizations. During that time, found a gap in being able to find the right talent and people for the positions.

2019 brought the opportunity to work with mentors of his at Mission Advantage Recruitment.


Mission Advantage Recruiting

Mission Advantage Recruiting is a search and recruiting firm that works with nonprofit organizations, primarily faith-based organizations. Partner with np that have hiring needs and vacancies to help them fill those roles. They go in and identify unique needs that will help to find the right people.

Some of the organizations they have or currently are working with are: Archdiocese of New York, Solidarity Health Share, Mary’s Meals USA, and St. Paul’s Center for Biblical Theology.

What makes a good client? Being candid and open, having honest feedback and conversation.


What makes a good Development Officer?

  • Being relationship oriented
  • Integrity
  • Perseverance, relentless perseverance

What questions would you ask, what do you look for those three areas?

  • Track record that shows persistence.
  • Checking references
  • Conversation

Hire for passion and train for skill. There is the element of the “IT” factor. Book recommendation: Who by GH Smart


How has 2020/Covid changed your work?

The second quarter was scary but Q3 and Q4 has picked up. Candidates have changed in willingness to relocate as well as asking more question on the organizational policies. Definitely more negotiation, strategic conversation.


As the church is looking to grow, how can we increase awareness and interest for careers in the church?

It needs to be a strategic initiative. How do we approach Catholic college students, within Catholic universities and Newman centers?

So many times, when you think about working for the church, only discernment of ordained positions come to mind. Need to show how much bigger the opportunity is at the church. Even taking a successful campus minister and approaching them with the idea of delving into development as their lifestyle needs change.


Advising Young Professionals

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, uses the hedgehog concept. Involves finding where three circles intersect: what are you passionate about, what can you be the best at, what can drive your economic engine.

Need to begin to drill down or dig roots in one thing that you can be good at. And gain experience in that area.


Increasing Diversity in Development

Having diversity increases productivity and creativity. The Catholic church alone, 43% is Latino, and if we want to speak to, we need people from the culture to engage.


Lightening Round

  1. If you could fund-raise for any organization at any time in history, what would it be?
    • The Franciscans at the time of St. Francis
  2. If you could get a donor meeting with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
    • St. Katharine Drexel
  3. Is there enough money out there for every organization doing good work?
    • Doing good work, the best will survive – yes there is enough.
  4. What is one piece of advice that you would give your past self?
    • Don’t worry. The importance of networking and building genuine relationships
  5. Who are 3 people who have most influenced you, professionally?
    • John Paul De Gance (Communio), Bill McGuckin (Mission Advantage), Dr. Tim Gray (Augustine Institute)
  6. What is one fact about JM that most people don’t know?
    • His wife was a soccer player and was offered a position to play professionally in Europe after college.

If you would like to reach Tom, you can find him at


Andrew's Key Take-Aways:

First, What makes a good development officer?

  • Relationship focused: as a development officer, you have to constantly be making decisions about who can help move your mission forward through their support, but that must be balanced with an authentic care and concern for all of your donors, prospects, coworkers, volunteers and others. Its not about being extroverted or introverted, outgoing or reserved. Its about seeing people, building connections and putting the needs and desires of others in front of yours. 
  • Trustworthy men and women of integrity: building trust is important and you have to hire people who you trust completely otherwise the risk of problems is too high. I watch a lot of Survivor, and the players are always telling people, “I trust you 100 percent.” It's comical in that game but in real life, anything less than 100 percent trust is a mistake. 
  • Perseverance: Relentless approach to doing the right thing every day with thick skin to handle rejection. Tom had some great examples of ways you can identify someone's work ethic and grit and I think its worth considering some of those when hiring. 

Second point: It’s a “buyers market”. Organizations need to be flexible and adaptable if they are going to recruit excellent talent. If you are on the hiring end, start thinking about what you currently offer in terms of flexibility and if you can be open to creative strategies to recruit the best people. JoAnn Shull mentioned how important it was to be able to work from home and even bring her babies to work with her as a mom and her employer being flexible was critical to her success and even willingness to stick with the job. 

And last, Universities and missionary organizations can be partners in recruiting young professionals and building awareness of the benefits of working in the development world. Introducing young and even future professionals the careers in development is something that is very important to me and we have to continue to work with groups, institutions and leaders to promote the idea of being a fundraiser for the Church. 


Action Item:

Dive in and think about the best fundraisers that you know and get specific about what it is that makes them so great. If you are a development officer, consider how you can model your life to include some of those characteristics in your own life. If you are an employer, think about how you can recruit folks like them to your team and begin cultivating people early that could be part of your team down the road. 


Again, just a reminder about our women in philanthropy podcast takeover happening over the next 3 episodes. Be sure to tune in for those episodes and share them with others that might be interested. Have a great day and keep doing great things for your ministry and for the Kingdom. God bless.


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