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Good to Great: Interview with John Flynn on The Petrus Development Show

John Flynn, Vice President of Philanthropy, FOCUS (Denver, CO)

In this episode, Andrew visits with the Vice President of Philanthropy for FOCUS, John Flynn. They discuss the impact that development can have on ministry as well as the importance of having a plan and a vision for your ministry. Two tools for success explored are the Case for Support and the Blue Ribbon Committee. Other successful development strategies are also highlighted. Most importantly, a development officer in the Catholic Church needs to be committed to a life of prayer and participation in the Sacraments.

Show Notes:

  • John Flynn’s Work History:
    • 2010-Present: Vice President of Philanthropy, FOCUS (Denver, CO)
    • 2005-2010: Co-Founder, Petrus Development (Austin, TX)
    • 1994-2004: Director of Advancement, St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center (Lawrence, KS)
  • John got involved with the St. Lawrence Catholic Center while he was a student at Kansas University. Fr. Vince Krische was the chaplain for the football team and he and John built a friendship while John was a player on the team.
  • John graduated and started a successful insurance business in Kansas City. In 1994, John attended a conference where he learned about the impact that development can have on ministry.
  • John started on June 20, 1994 with the St. Lawrence Catholic Center. He attended the Omaha Development Institute hosted by Fr. John Flynn. (Yes, they have the same name.) Fr. John recommended focusing on two things to be successful: creating a great Case for Support and recruiting a Blue Ribbon Committee. John also hired a development consultant to help create a plan. John and Fr. Vince worked for two months listing all the things that Fr. Vince wanted to accomplish at the Center. This created a blueprint for the Case for Support.
  • John and Fr. Vince’s first person to invite to the Advisory Council was John J. Sullivan, a successful businessman in Kansas. John was honored to serve and to make a gift. Fr. John also encouraged Fr. Vince to invite Archbishop James Keleher to join the Advisory Council. John and Fr. Vince invited the Archbishop after having most of the other members confirmed. Showing Archbishop Keleher the Case for Support and the list of members convinced him to serve, and he made every meeting except for two during his time on the Council.
  • The key to success is to have a plan. Without a plan and a vision for your ministry, you are wasting people’s time.
  • One of the great success story for the Catholic Church is the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center at University of Nebraska. So many of the leaders of the Church in Nebraska are coming through UNL. They started with a vision to build a fraternity and sorority but have gone on to raise $30M plus to build a vibrant campus ministry and beautiful new church.
  • Question for any leader in ministry is, “What is the vision for our apostolate? How are we going to change the world? How are we going to better the Church? What kind of impact are we going to have? How are we going to accomplish it?”
  • Many people ask what the bishop can do for you, but the real question should be what can I do for the bishop. The most impactful contribution that a bishop can give to a church or ministry is to assign a great leader. A priest needs to then build good leadership around them – development director, programming director, etc. In addition, the external leadership of Advisory Board is important. If you have good leadership and follow the proper steps, the money will follow.
  • The best thing that FOCUS does and brings to ministries is their successful emphasis on evangelization and outreach. Now, FOCUS serves on 155 campuses around the country. They can help take a good campus ministry to great with the infusion of FOCUS missionaries on campus.
  • Petrus started working with FOCUS in 2009. They had three dedicated development officers working on fundraising at that time. Most of their efforts were spent doing direct mail. Today, there are 21 development officers plus 20 other development support individuals working in the development office for FOCUS. The question of their development team now is “how can we evangelize our benefactors?” If John’s team can help donors grow in their spirituality, then they will want to support more frequently or at a higher level.
  • To go from good to great as a development officer, you have to apply the discipline of tracking visits, number of attempts, number of hours spent on activities, etc. It is easy to get busy, but you have to be busy doing the right things. There are a number of things that can distract a development officer, but you have to be active with what will produce results.
  • “It’s not all about the money.” Tracking your visits and calls can give perspective on what it takes to raise money. Being committed to visits and calls will ultimately produce revenue even though it can take time to see those results. A minimum number of visits per month should be 20. A goal for development officers should be to shoot for 30-40 visits per month.
  • When John started in 1994, the budget of the St. Lawrence Center was $400,000. They only raised an additional $50,000 in his first year. From 2000-2003, they were able to complete a $13M capital campaign. The activity from those early years set them up for success even though the dollars were not coming in immediately.
  • “I’ve worked with a lot of development professionals over the last 25 years. The ones that don’t perform at a high level are always the ones complaining about keeping track of their numbers. The ones that are most successful never complain about tracking their numbers.”
  • It’s good to strike a balance between cultivation and solicitation visits but always be prepared to make an ask. Don’t overstay your welcome. Know how much time you have at your appointment and stick to that.
  • When hiring new development officers, FOCUS looks for two things: great development experience or a great FOCUS experience. Strong communication skills, flexibility, great prayer life, patience, perseverance, and passion are incredibly important attributes.
  • It is important for development officers in the Catholic Church to commit to having a strong spiritual life, a strong prayer life and participating in the sacraments. This will lead to personal and organizational success.
  • Always leave a voicemail and leave your phone number twice, once at the beginning and again at the end.

For more information about FOCUS, or to connect with John Flynn, visit or email him at [email protected] or 785.423.1303

Giving to religious causes vastly exceeds any other category in the nonprofit sector, but faith-based organizations often struggle the most with fundraising effectively. Join Andrew Robison, President of Petrus Development, as he explores this topic through honest and revealing conversations with church leaders, executive directors and development professionals from the nonprofit community.


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