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What Development Means to Me by Josh Whelan

By Josh Whelan, Petrus Vice President and Senior Consultant 

In 2000, I went to the University of Mississippi with the career goal of either becoming a psychologist or a lawyer.


My father is a psychologist, and like him, I want to help people. He is a person I greatly admire, and I often seek his wisdom and counsel. When I decided to become a psychologist, he advised me to intern in the field before investing in a PhD. I’m glad I took that advice. A job with a community mental health clinic convinced me that while I wanted to help people, I did not want to do that in a clinical setting. 


My next step was to talk to another mentor, the dean of students at Ole Miss. He guided me in clarifying that in addition to helping others, I enjoy working on a team and accomplishing tangible goals. Academic administration fit that criteria, and this led me to pursue a Master of Higher Education Administration. I entered the program thinking that someday I would be a dean of students and a university president. 


An internship in the dean’s office once again caused me to revisit my goal. Things just moved too slowly there for my energy level. However, my next internship with the University of Mississippi Foundation showed me another path. I loved it! After I earned my master’s, I got a job in the foundation’s development office in charge of raising money for the parents’ association. This was a new position, and all I had to start with was a spreadsheet with names.


Because the university was engaged in a capital campaign, I also got to observe how that process worked. This job showed me development from startup to an established campaign. It was an amazing experience! Today, I understand how daunting it can be for Petrus clients to take the first steps in a “best practices” development process. I also understand the excitement and challenges of a major campaign.


After three years, a friend acquired a t-shirt company and hired me as the vice president of sales. In addition to managing a sales team, I did just about everything else in this entrepreneurial environment. However, unlike development work, the encounters I had with our customers were transactional. I missed the meaningful relationships that development officers have with benefactors.


My next two jobs further honed my development skills, including corporate foundation philanthropy, managing a team of development officers, conducting a feasibility study, and launching a capital campaign. 


As a convert to Catholicism, I am passionate about the future of the Church. When I met development officers with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), I was impressed by their faith and professionalism. These men, whose names are pretty “famous” in the Catholic development world, inspired me spiritually, professionally, and personally. I was thrilled to join the FOCUS team as the southern area director, and in this position, got extensive Catholic capital campaign experience.


In 2018, while attending a Petrus conference, I met Andrew Robison, Petrus’s owner and president. We had a lot in common. We are both passionate about our faith and want to promote the Kingdom of God in our careers. We both had university development experience and had seriously considered careers in academic administration. We loved watching ministries implement the “best practices” of raising funds and seeing the results. We also enjoy mentoring others to grow in their development careers. 


When the time was right, Andrew hired me, and I’ve been at Petrus for just over two years. I’ve worked with clients in all phases, from those who are just getting started in fundraising (and maybe have even less than a spreadsheet to go on) to those who have established development programs and are engaged in major campaigns.  


Throughout my experiences, I’ve learned that development is SO much more than raising funds to reach a goal. Development is holy work. Development is holy because it empowers ministries. When Petrus helps clients raise the funds they need to grow their outreach and programs, we are equipping ministries to fight evil and save souls. This means that what development officers do has ETERNAL value. 


Development is also holy because it evangelizes benefactors. As they hear the stories and share in the visions of various ministries, they are invited into the saintly work of ensuring a strong, vibrant future for the Church, society, families, and others in need of the Good News. This evangelization continues even when they say “no.” Let’s face it, we hear a version of “no” a lot more often than we hear “yes.” Yet, God is in charge. Our job is to ask in the best way possible, and it’s up to the Holy Spirit to take it from there. 


Did you ever consider how much fundraising directly influences “saint-making?”


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