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Imagining Abundance: Interview with Kerry Robinson

Kerry Robinson, Global Ambassador, Leadership Roundtable

In this episode, Andrew visits with Kerry Robinson the Global Ambassador of Leadership Roundtable and author of the book, Imagining Abundance: Fundraising, Philanthropy and a Spiritual Call to Service. During their conversation Kerry details her experience working in development for the Catholic Student Center at Yale University and later goes on to describe the origins and legacy of Leadership Roundtable, packed with useful lessons along the way.

Show Notes:

  • Kerry Robinson was the first Executive Director of Leadership Roundtable, beginning in 2005.

  • Author of “Imagining Abundance,” published in 2014.

  • Past Experience with St. Thomas More Catholic Center at Yale University. Raised $75 million in their capital campaign.
    • She began at St. Thomas More at Yale in 1997 while she was pregnant with her second child.
    • She didn’t intend to work in development (or even to work full time). She wasn’t trained; had no experience.
    • Fr. Bob Beloin (7th Catholic Chaplain at Yale) was a friend of hers and contacted her saying that her name came to him in prayer. She agreed to pray about it for 5 days.
    • She realized in prayer that this was a way to live out her vocation and help bring to fruition a Catholic intellectual and spiritual center of consequence and model a clergy, lay collaboration.

  • First Catholic Chaplain at Yale was Fr. T. Lawrason Riggs. He was only one of 8 Catholics to graduate from Yale in 1910. He built up the ministry at the Catholic Center. Resisted the name “Newman Club” because he thought it conveyed a private, separate club for Catholics, and he wanted the center to be fully integrated into the university.

  • When Fr. Bob took over, there was a great history and enormous potential. 25% of students on campus were Catholic but no one was coming to Mass, the center and the board were in a deficit, and they needed better board governance and practices.

  • Kerry was asked to spearhead a major fundraising initiative for St. Thomas More with an increased goal from $5 million to $10 million for chapel renovation, maintenance, and building a student center to accommodate more people.

  • Learning and getting started: Planned a 60th anniversary celebration and symposium to draw in alumni. They didn’t know the basic rules of engagement for fundraising. They simply said they were going to raise $10 million and showed the plans for their vision for the student center.

    • Tom Golden was the first person who responded as wanting to get involved. Little did they know, he was a man of great affluence. He committed to leave them $25 million or 75% of his estate, whichever was greater at the time of his death, if they built the building in his lifetime.
    • They became great friends with Tom Golden. Fr. Bob did his funeral and Kerry gave his eulogy.
    • Tom attended an Easter Sunday Mass with Kerry just before signing the testamentary agreement. He was weeping throughout. Later told Kerry that this was his first Mass in 40 years! Kerry realized in that moment that what they were about was ministry!

  • How important is visionary leadership for an organization?: Critical!

  • How did Kerry help Fr. Bob bring the vision to life?: Mission driven!

    • Wanted to inculcate an adult, mature life of faith among some of the smartest young adults that they had ever met from all over the world, and therefore benefit the Church and world because you have faith filled leaders who are articulate about their faith and informed, inspired, consoled, and motivated.
    • When they realized how sacred their encounters were with potential donors, they appreciated the intimacy of talking with them about fears, hopes, concerns, regrets –this helped Fr. Bob to not see them as wealthy objects to try to get money out of, but to see them as he saw any of his parishioners.

  • What should people look for in a competent, successful director of development?
    • Someone who can speak and write well (need to be able to tell the story)
    • Someone who takes initiative
    • Someone with unbridled enthusiasm for the mission

  • How did the campaign finish?:
    • 10 years, $75 million, no staff and she was technically part time
    • Built a 30,000 sq. ft. center connected to the chapel, completely debt free
    • Took the annual budget from $200,000 to close to $2.5 million
    • Endowment has grown – handed it off to Yale investment office
    • 14 new initiatives
    • 3 Sunday liturgies (standing room only)
    • Now a vibrant community

  • Leadership Roundtable:
    • Halfway through the capital campaign they were proudly telling alumni about how part of their mission was “to elevate and celebrate Catholic intellectual discourse, taking topics of the day, illuminating them from the perspective of faith, and inviting students into a rich discussion about the centrality of faith in the topics of the day.”

    • Suddenly, the topic of the day in 2002 was the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church

    • At this time they were enmeshed in the campaign but decided they had a moral obligation to respond to their students’ questions. Temporarily suspended campaign, raised $150,000, and planned a 3 day conference that 500 people attended with 30 national speakers, called: “Governance, Accountability, and the Future of the Catholic Church.”

    • March 2003: Released a book by the same name with the proceedings from the conference. This became a touchstone for the reform movement, calling our Church to greater accountability, managerial practices, and holiness.

    • 3 months later at a FADICA (Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities) board meeting the Chairman of the Board at Boston College came to speak about his perspective on the crisis and his recommendations. His talk was the same as their playbook from the conference.

    • Kerry offered to help him and became part of his advisory committee as he was trying to harness expertise of Catholic leaders. This lead to the creation of Leadership Roundtable.

    • Network of women, men, ordained, religious, and laypeople, college presidents, heads of international corporations, army generals, philanthropists, directors of international nonprofits, all wanting to bring the Church to greater accountability and practices out of love for the Church.

    • Mission was to strengthen the management of people, facilities, and finances in the Church to change the culture so there was a natural embrace of ethics, integrity, transparency, and accountability.

    • Promoted the role of laity and lay expertise with the collaboration of religious and ordained

    • Because of the wake of the abuse crisis, no one trusted each other; Bishops were afraid of where leadership roundtable was going. Kerry had the job to go Bishop by Bishop, etc, to calm the fears and explain who they were; they were not  a hostile takeover, not trying to protestantize the Church. Everything they did was in line with magisterial teaching, everything they created was vetted through the lens of canon law. Demonstrated a profound understanding of ecclesiology.

    • The Church has a divine mission – however, comprised of people, facilities, and finances, and they deserve to be treated with the utmost care and ethics, precisely because of the mission.

    • After Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report last June, 50 dioceses contacted Leadership Roundtable for help because of the trusting relationships they had created with Church leaders.

    • Any of their resources can be extended to churches around the world in this global crisis.

  • Daily prayer is important! “God, empty me of all that stands between you and me…”

  • Lent doesn’t make sense without Easter
  • If we walk away from the Church, we won’t be there to be part of the solution






Lightning Round:

  1. If you could fundraise for any organization or cause at any time in history, what would it be?
    • Caritas Internationalis – alleviating suffering, fostering peace, bringing justice
  2. If you could get a donor meeting with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
    • Bono – Faithful attentiveness to eliminating poverty and using his capital to do so
  3. Is there enough money for every organization doing good work?
    • YES!!! Absolutely! 100% favorite parable is Stone Soup. Thinks even if there is only a fixed amount of generosity, we have only seen a tiny sliver of the pie
  4. What is one piece of advice that you would give your past self?
    • Look at the challenges as signs that you are on to something of consequence. Runner jumping over hurdles; if you don’t have enough momentum you won’t get over them. Take a running start and don’t give up.
  5. Who are 3 people who have most influenced you professionally?
    • Frank Butler: Long time President of FADICA and mentored her right out of college.
    • John Raskob: Great grandfather whom she never met. He was friends with the 1st Catholic Chaplain at Yale. In a 1928 letter to a Bishop in Oklahoma, he wrote, “The more I think about it, the more I think some scheme needs to be created where lay people can offer their expertise in management and finances for the sake of the Church.” He laid out the mission statement for Leadership Roundtable over 75 years prior to its creation.
    • Fr. Bob: Passed away September 218 from an aggressive form of brain cancer. Her closest friend. She journeyed with him through his cancer and treatments. He is a reminder of how important our faith is.

For more information about Leadership Roundtable, or to connect with Kerry, visit or email her at [email protected]


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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