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Staying True to Mission - An Interview with Ryan Carney

In this episode, Andrew visits with Ryan Carney, Chief Advancement Officer of Society of St. Vincent de Paul. They discuss Ryan's journey with development and the challenges that he has experienced and conquered throughout his years with non-profits. They also discuss the work they are doing at St. Vincent de Paul and how he helped one local chapter back from a pretty bad case of mission creep. If you have ever dealt with mission creep or if you are struggling to identify your organizations true mission, you'll want to take notes. 

Show Notes:


He fell into development by accident. He had been able to attend an event where a presentation by Catholic Charities took place and that is where the introduction to non-profits and development took route. He graduated from the Chaifetz School of Business at Saint Louis University.

After graduation, he found himself working to Enterprise where he was able to Rent a car to the current executive director of Society of St. Vincent de Paul. They took a chance and invited to apply as a grant writer in 2007.

During his time, he played a rotational position in the company as they were dealing with a small company and lots of needs.

This was his first introduction to mission creep, as he realized they were telling a convoluted story when trying to talk about all the small paths they were taking.


Covid Response

During the beginning of covid, they called 1500 donors, simply to check in, ask “how can we help you,” and to thank them for what they do.

During the conversations, they realized that donors were saying how they need to do something. We want to help, but we can’t leave our homes. Because of this outreach initiative, they had 600-700 new donors within the first weeks of quarantine.

It was important to be keeping the donors informed of what was going on and what SVdP was doing. They needed to be speaking to this underlining value and passion that the donors were experiencing.

You need to invite the heroes to the party.


Society of St. Vincent de Paul

Founded by college students. Going into homes and bringing bread and helping. Today, they are doing the same thing. They are members of the parish that are going out and sharing the love of Christ.


“The Society of St. Vincent de Paul began in Paris, France, in 1833 when a young law student at the Sorbonne, Frédéric Ozanam, was challenged during a debate to demonstrate what he and his fellow Catholic students were personally doing to help the poor in Paris. Ozanam's reaction was immediate. Within weeks, Ozanam, at 20 years of age, and six of his peers formed the first "Conference of Charity." Under the conference, this group of seven men financed their works of charity out of their own pockets and from contributions of friends. They visited the poor in their homes, providing them with needed aid and assistance. At the prompting of Monsieur Emmanuel Bailly and Sister Rosalie Rendu, superior of a convent of the Daughters of Charity, Ozanam soon placed the conference under the patronage of St. Vincent de Paul who had spent his life in 16th century France serving the poor. Within a few years, the original group of seven grew to 600, spreading to 15 other cities and towns in France, numbering more than 2,000 members.

Twelve years later, in 1845, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul crossed the ocean to St. Louis, Missouri, where the first American conference was formed. To this day, St. Louis remains the Society's national headquarters.”


Lightening Round

  1. If you could fund-raise for any organization or cause at any time in history, what would it be?
    • Word on Fire
  2. If you could get a donor meeting with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
    • St. Vincent de Paul
  3. Is there enough money out there for every organization that's doing good work?
    • More than enough. Unlimited for great causes.
  4. What is one piece of advice that you would give your past self?
    • Be generous with yourself when you make mistakes 
  5. Who are 3 people who have most influenced you, professionally?
    • John Foppe, Ryan's Dad, FOCUS
  6. What is one fact about Ryan that most people don’t know?
    • Obsessed with RVs
  7. What is a book that you would recommend?
    • “Good to Great" by Jim Collins


If you would like to connect with Ryan, you can reach out to him at LinkedIn. 


Andrew's Take-Aways:

My first takeaway was just how God works in mysterious ways sometimes and it is so important to be listening. Who would think in a million years that picking someone up in an Enterprise rent-a-car would open up a conversation and lead to a career in fundraising for the Church? Pretty wild. Fortunately for a lot of people, Ryan was living his life in a manner that a) led this CEO to offer him an opportunity and b) that Ryan was open to hearing Gods voice. What a crazy story. 


Second, mission creep is such a huge problem for businesses and nonprofit organizations. When Ryan started talking about the St. Louis chapter of St. Vincent de Paul getting overwhelmed with problems simply because they were trying to do too much good, I thought, "that sounds like so many organizations that I know." Some nonprofits get into trouble chasing grant dollars or major gifts and some just see more problems than they are ultimately equipped to handle. Ryan’s story about how they undid that mission creep was also very refreshing. It wasn't a matter of just canceling programs immediately but they mapped out a strategic retreat in a way that minimized any damage and ultimately allowed these folks to continue to be served. And in the end, gifts went up to the local chapter and they are flourishing today. Very inspiring. 


Lastly, I loved Ryan’s comment at the end about don't let perfect be the enemy of the good. This is so important and its worth repeating even if I have said it before on this show. Too often, development officers will get paralyzed trying to set everything up perfectly. Too many edits of the newsletter. Too long deliberating about buying the perfect database. Too much agonizing about asking for the right gift. You get the point. Sometimes, its about taking action and then accepting that things will need to be adjusted or fixed down the road versus doing nothing. It's like Wayne Gretzsky said, "you miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take." Sometimes you just have to line up and take your shot.


If you have any questions, email us at [email protected]. Please reach out and I would love to connect. God bless you and your work and I will continue to pray for your success.


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