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Making the Transition - An Interview with JoAnn Shull on the Petrus Development Show

In this episode, Andrew visits with JoAnn Shull, Director of Development at St. Thomas More Newman Center at the University of Missouri. In this episode, Andrew and JoAnn discuss making the transition from campus minister to director of development, fundraising and the importance of communication and design work. They also discuss the challenges you can face when you combine family life with working in development, as well as, how to create a tribe that supports you.

Show Notes:


JoAnn Shull worked as the Campus Minister at St. Thomas More Newman Center at University of Missouri for 8 years before transitioning to the role of Director of Development, which she has held for the last 5 years. 

Bringing FOCUS to the campus is what jump started the need for a devoted development position. FOCUS was fantastic, but what comes with the program is more students. More students meant more retreats, more transportation needs, more food requirements, more t-shirts. And they were left wondering how to afford the 'more.' Setting limits on attendance was not the answer, so figuring out how and who to hire for development was. In order to even begin the search, they were required to raise $40k. 

When they reached that goal, JoAnn stepped out of campus ministry and into development. 


Move from Ministry to Development

JoAnn missed the student relationships, but found that ministry experience valuable in making conversation with donors. She could tell stories of what their donations were going towards. 

How do you maintain that connection? JoAnn had to find a way to continue connections in a new way. She incorporates student stories into their newsletters as well as going to the student center to connect, talking with interns, faculty, etc. You have to make effort to know students, to engage with them. Students become alum and alumni become donors. 


Class Gift Program

One of the first items JoAnn began was the Legacy Fund. She utilized the relationships she had with those senior students to figure out what they really wanted. And what they wanted was a way to contribute to an Endowment Fund. They wanted a way to see an impact. In 2020, they moved their senior celebration to a virtual platform. "It was weird, but we did it."


Communication & Design

At the heart of development is communication. It's necessary for relationship building, donor focused newsletters, planned giving, impact stories.

What key components help a newsletter/appeal letter? 

JoAnn works with 2 student stories, strong visuals, drives to social media/website, a "why I give" section and includes the word "you."

People are more attentive when they can see themselves in it. 

Book Recommendation: "Story Brand" by Donald Miller

"You" made this possible.

JoAnn tells the story of the Good Samaritan but from the perspective that the donor is the Samaritan and we, the development officer, are the innkeeper. 


Appeal Letters

Mail merge is a terrific was to personalize communications. 

JoAnn's tips: keep is short, engaging with color, pictures, post script. And never smaller that 13 point font. 

How do you merge hardcopy with digital?

Send out an email letting them know that the newsletter is on it's way. Same with the appeal letters. You can use the same copy for multiple forms of communications. Social media, hardcopy, emails, etc. Just because you've seen it ten times, that doesn't mean that the donor has seen it even once. So don't be afraid to send it again. 


Working with the Team

You need to know the strengths of your staff. 

Book Recommendation: "The Spirituality of Fundraising" by Henri Nouwen

"Imagining Abundance" by Kerry Robinson



JoAnn has 3 kids (ages 6, 4 and 19 months). And she is able to do this work by having a strong support system. Traveling presents unique challenges. Sometimes she would take her mom with her to watch the baby. It's important to have a supportive boss and to communicate what you need. Turnover is more expensive than working through the issue. 


Lightening Round:

  1. If you could fund-raise for any organization at any time in history, what would it be?
    • Catholic Extension
  2. If you could get a donor meeting with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
    • Dr. Jim Koller, a former colleague of JoAnn's who passed last year
  3. Is there enough money out there for every organization doing good work?
    • Absolutely, it's just a matter of matching people with organizations
  4. What is one piece of advice that you would give your past self?
    • Spend more time getting the database in order at the very beginning
  5. Who are 3 people who have most influenced you, professionally?
    • Dr. Jim Koller, Tara Doyon, Fr. Mike Martin and Michelle Sutton of Duke University
  6. What is one fact about JoAnn that most people don’t know?
    • She enjoys freelancing in marketing and branding with organizations all over the country


If you would like to reach JoAnn, you can find her at and


Andrew's Take-Aways:

  1. The shift from Ministry to Development brings a fear of disconnect but what rather happens is a connection in a new and strategic way.
  2. Bringing to attention the simple language shift from "we" to "you." Donors are hero's of their own stories and we need to remember that we are the innkeepers and donors are the Samaritans.
  3. Being a mom in development. JoAnn reminds us that it is possible to deal with the unique challenges that being a mom presents. But it's possible with a great support system and a good team. And it's encouraging for those wanting to pursue a career in development.


Andrew's Action Item:

If you haven't already completed your Advent Appeals, take a moment to look at and change the language to be more donor centric. It's a simple shift that you can begin to incorporate into all of your communications. "You made this happen." 


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