Q&A with Andrew Robison, president of Petrus Development
Andrew Robison, president of Petrus Development sits down and answers some questions about his new role and his vision for the future of higher-ed fund development.
What is the most important role of Petrus?
Petrus Development exists for one major reason: to help our organizations raise more money so they are better equipped to offer more ministry and bring more people to Christ. The organizations that we work with are good organizations doing good work. They are run by good people with hearts for Christ and for the Church. Our role is very simple. We want to help them hire passionate people with the potential to become great fundraisers and then train and equip those people to lead their development programs to new heights. I believe that we can provide inspiration and information to help our clients create a vision for greatness, possibly visions that they’ve never even imagined. But that is not enough, we must also provide the roadmap, the tools, the strategies, the technology and the coaching to get the work done that will bring that vision to life. I believe that we do a great job now but I also see some ways that we can improve and enhance the instruction and level of service to become extraordinary allies for our clients.
What is the future of fundraising?
During the twelve years that I’ve worked in higher education or campus ministry development, I’ve seen quite a bit of change. The biggest change has, of course, been the role of technology. Communication is not only faster, but there’s more of it, and those who receive messages have much higher expectations than ever before. While online giving is constantly growing, increasing in popularity, and leveling the playing field between large and small development firms – it still has not replaced the traditional methods (check and cash) and personal interaction.
Planned giving, donor research and analytics are so much bigger and more sophisticated now than they used to be, universities and their foundations are investing millions in staffing, training and tools to facilitate these activities. All these changes are important to be aware of and track, but at the end of the day, the fact remains that large (and especially transformational) gifts are almost always given as a result of relationships built on trust and genuine concern. This will never change. People give to people – and that is true and will continue to be true. Our biggest challenge will be to commit ourselves as fundraising professionals to the systems and processes of qualification, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship of our organization’s donors and prospective donors. Only then will we have sustainable development programs that allow our institutions to thrive.
How does a company with so many clients in the same field balance the approach of each institution?
We’ve worked with nearly 100 great Catholic institutions since Petrus began. The services that we offer are truly custom approaches built out of the needs of each individual client. While we focus our efforts on best practices and solid foundational principles of fundraising, there is no set template that we believe will work with 100% of our institutions. I believe that this is one of the things that separates us from other consulting firms. In most cases, we are working with organizations that have never had a development program (or have attempted to build one in the past but failed) and bringing them to a point of success and sustainability. For this reason, there really is not a cookie-cutter approach that we can just pull from the last client. We have to assess the needs, history, personnel and vision of each organization as it comes and then craft a strategy and plan that will work within their unique environment. To be honest though, this is what I (and our whole team of consultants) really love the most about the work that we get to do. Solving problems and creating strategy is so exciting to me because it allows me to really invest in each client as a true part of the institutional team.
What changes are coming to Petrus?
Petrus Development has a track record of success that I am incredibly proud of. We have worked with campus ministries and Catholic nonprofits of every size and scope and in almost every single case, we have found ways to make those organizations more capable of offering the ministry that their constituents really need. We also have a team of dedicated and passionate professionals that truly care about our clients and want to see them succeed. I don’t want to see any of that change.
At the same time, I believe in systems, in analytics and in leveraging the power of the collective resources at hand. Our annual Petrus Leadership Conference (PLC) has been one of the best programs that we offer because it brings together like-minded institutions and professionals and allows them to connect and build relationships that can help organizations succeed in ways any one organization simply can’t imagine on their own. I intend to work on the PLC and explore ways to make it even more impactful for our participants. I also want to create ways to extend opportunities for networking and collaboration beyond the conference so that they are expanding all year long. This may be done through new programs and activities or with the help of new technology. I don’t know just yet what that will look like, but I love to try new ideas and we will work on it until we get it right – and then we’ll make it better. I also want Petrus to be recognized as a resource center for institutions looking for ways to do things the right way. We are already putting plans in place to be the creators of excellent content and will be tapping into our team and our connections across the fundraising spectrum to make that content relevant and available to our clients. I am very excited about these changes and look forward to adding these services into our toolkit without losing the passion and consideration that makes us who we are today.
How do you see yourself and Petrus growing together?
I love this question. Fundraising is a passion of mine. Ever since I started as a brand new assistant director of development at St. Mary’s Catholic Center at Texas A&M University right out of college, I have found incredible joy in this field. I truly enjoy getting to know people with generous hearts that want to give back and make the organizations and people that we serve better. I don’t ever see that changing. However, in my new role as president, I recognize that it’s not just about affecting a single family or a single ministry, but it’s about taking the gift of development work that we all love so much and spreading it to as many campuses and communities as possible. This will take a different approach from what I have been used to, but I am eager for the work.
I believe that in some ways, Petrus is in a similar situation. We do phenomenal work for our clients and the students they serve, but can we do more with some shifts in our strategy and approach? Absolutely. I see us broadening our work to engage some new types of clients from whom we have traditionally served. There are some fantastic Catholic organizations serving the next generation of the Church and I want us to be available, willing and prepared to help them do it better. I look forward to this growth, even if I know that it will stretch me personally and us as an organization. But as in the parable of the talents, God does not give us gifts so that we can bury them and keep them safe. The blessings that we have been given, we are called to “invest” back into those around us and trust that God will guide us to make the right decisions.
What is your leadership style?
Whether it’s a client, an employee, a teammate or one of my own kids, I believe that God has blessed all of his creations with gifts and talents that make us unique. My goal as a leader is to discover those gifts and provide the nurturing and encouragement to bring them out in the most productive means possible. I believe in producing excellent products and services and hold those around me to the same standards. I push people to try out new ideas, commit to learning when things don’t totally add up and then develop solutions that make those ideas even better.
Finally, I believe in setting big goals and not being afraid to go after them. While all of this is what I want to do as a leader, I realize that it doesn’t always work that way. To that end, I am not afraid to admit when I am wrong and roll up my sleeves to get in and fix the situation. Being a leader is always a privilege and I try to respect that privilege at all times and constantly work to become better prepared and equipped to serve those around me.
What was your favorite childhood vacation?
Growing up, my family went almost every summer to a small retreat center in the mountains of Colorado. Spring Canyon is a camp just outside of Buena Vista at an altitude of about 9,000 feet. Run by Officers Christian Fellowship, this camp serves military families as a place to retreat and recharge with their families and friends. I loved the camp and can still remember canoeing, hiking, horseback riding and playing board games as a kid. When I was older, I spent six summers working as a volunteer on staff – chopping firewood, doing dishes, etc. – and then as a full-time mountain guide. We led groups of college students (West Point cadets, ROTC students, etc) through a 10-day program filled with rock climbing, mountain biking, whitewater rafting and high-altitude backpacking and camping. I loved my time as a kid going with my family and loved being able to work there during the summers. My hope is to be able to go back with my own children and expose them to the same outdoor experiences that I had growing up.
What are three facts about you that people might appreciate knowing?
What are you most excited about in this new role?
For most of my life, I have been a consumer of what the Church offers: formation, community and the sacraments. A major goal of my life now is to be more intentional about contributing back to the Church and its people around the world. I have always been able to understand what it means to give back time and treasure but the talent has been a bit of a fuzzy area for me in the past.
What I know now is that I have spent many years honing my craft of fundraising, and God has turned that into a talent. I am passionate about making a difference in the future Church, so taking a bigger role with Petrus will allow me to be able to give that talent back to God and to the Church to help make a difference. All in all, I am very blessed and eager for the chance to help more organizations offer more ministry and make the world a better place.
Andrew N. Robison is President of Petrus Development. He has worked for over 12 years in development roles in Catholic campus ministry, higher education and academic medicine. Andrew works with organizations of all sizes to build sustainable development programs that allow them to better serve their constituencies.
"In a conference, what I'm really looking for is the practical TOOLS on how to do your job well and the MOTIVATION to go out and be ready to get back to work. I've gotten both of those things from Petrus. I'm really excited to get back home and HUSTLE and really put my all into it."