The other day someone relatively new to development reached out to discuss his career trajectory and it gave me a great chance to reflect on my own career. In Part 1 of this 3 part story, I will share the story of my first job in development and why I left a great work environment and moved across the country.
Sitting on my apartment couch in December 2004, about two days before graduation from Texas A&M University, I opened a letter I had received from Teach for America. I had applied to TFA and had (in my opinion) a really great interview. Thinking that I would be offered a job to work in an underserved school district somewhere in North Carolina or urban New York, I had not really put a lot of time and energy into a job search. Well, as things often happen, that letter informed me that “while I was a wonderful candidate for Teach for America, I would not be offered a position.” Uh oh...
Crushed and now a bit terrified, the first thing I did was go to my fridge and enjoy a long, cold drink. Then I refocused and decided to spend the spring and summer pursuing my teacher certification so I could get on with a district somewhere in Texas. I started substituting for my local school district, and spent three grueling weeks working in alternative classrooms and in-school suspension. It was rough. So when I got a call from Greg Gorman, director of development at St. Mary’s Catholic Center at A&M about coming in to “talk about a job,” I was definitely open to it.
Greg ended up hiring me and I started in January 2005 as the Assistant Director of Development. I loved it. Greg was a fantastic boss and let me take on a number of responsibilities around the office. I was in charge of the annual raffle, the newsletter, the appeals and our relatively new monthly giving program, the Living Faith Society. I was also given free reign to try to engage our new and recent graduates, something that Greg had been trying to do for some time. In May 2005, we launched the first Class Gift Program which has since raised over $1M from college seniors.
Between raffles and Class Gift dinners, I was also fortunate enough to receive a fellowship from Petrus Development to start work on my Masters of Arts in Philanthropy and Development at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota. Feeling completely unprepared and totally clueless, I nevertheless joined 23 other development professionals on campus that summer to begin a three year hybrid program to earn my MA. It was a fantastic experience and I learned so much from my instructors and my classmates. Because of how the course was structured, I was able to apply a lot of that knowledge directly to my work at St. Mary’s which was great.
As part of my fellowship, I had to remain at St. Mary’s until graduation so I knew that I was committed. When I graduated in 2008, Greg called me in and asked if I wanted to stay on for another year. I agreed and even negotiated a small raise. That year was more of a challenge however as I now felt ready to spread my wings and run a development shop of my own. I was also newly married and thinking that now was the ideal time to travel somewhere exotic before we had small children.
I remember calling Peter de Keratry one day around this time. Peter had co-founded Petrus in 2005 and was always telling me that my time at St. Mary’s at A&M was excellent training but there were dozens of ministries out there that needed help. I had put him off for a good year or so, but when I called Peter and told him that I was open to a move, he was thrilled. Within a month I had exploratory calls with four or five Catholic ministries from California to Chicago to Kansas. I was intrigued by many but ended up accepting an invitation to interview with Fr. Larry Rice at the Newman Center at Ohio State University.
My trip to Ohio was fantastic. Fr. Larry was a wonderful host and Cheryl Hoon was such a great administrator and source of financial data. Plus, Angela Studnek had been in the development director role for about two years and was sending consistent newsletters, appeals and thank you notes. Additionally, Fr. Larry and Mike Perkins, their Petrus consultant, had recruited a first-class Leadership Council that was really engaged. I remember calling my wife at the end of the day and telling her that I think I wanted to move to Ohio.
So how did things go from there? Well, I had done some salary research from the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the state of Ohio so I had an idea of what I would ask for. At the end of our meetings on the second day, I remember Cheryl telling me that they would like to formally offer me a position and asked if I had a number in mind. I shared with her my number and she shared with me what they were prepared to offer. The numbers were not the same but also not light years apart. She said that she would like to think about it and discuss it with some others and get back to me. I left Ohio feeling really good about the opportunity.
A few days later, Cheryl called me and made another offer which I accepted. It was a very generous offer with a base salary plus an incentive plan. I am so glad that I accepted as the next three years were such a blessing and so formative for my professional development.
Why did I accept this offer then?
A couple of reasons. First, I was definitely feeling the itch to step out of my comfort zone and have a position with more responsibility. Greg had made my time at St. Mary’s at A&M a great experience and because I was allowed to take on a wide variety of experiences, I had a solid understanding of what it takes to run a development program. Second, I really felt like the Newman Center was in a strong position and ready for someone to come in and take things to the next level. I didn't feel confident enough to start something from scratch, but they had some great things going that I believed I could build on quickly and create sustainability. Third, my wife and I had been talking for a while about starting a family but she really wanted to be able to stay home once we had kids. This job with the increased pay would put us in a position to do that. All in all, I felt like this was where God was calling me and I was ready and eager for the challenge.
In Part 2, I will share about my experience in Ohio and why I would ultimately end up moving back to Texas three years later. If you want to share your story with me or have questions that I might be able to help answer, hit me up at [email protected]. I would love to visit. God bless.