By JoAnn Shull, Petrus Consultant
I’m going to be really honest with you, dear reader, in that for the vast majority of my life I had no idea what this idea of “development” was or that I would end up in a career that I didn’t even know existed.
Growing up, my family was not church-going, but I fell into going to the youth group at my parish thanks to some high school friends. My involvement at church and my relationship with Christ grew into my college years where I stayed very active in my Catholic Newman Center at Truman State University. In an unfortunate twist of events, two weeks after I graduated from college, my Newman Center was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. My bike – which was still chained to the bike rack outside the center – was warped from the heat of the flames.
This was a huge shock for me. A place that was so formative in my faith was gone. All that remained was the tabernacle that a Catholic fireman had run inside to grab before the chapel was lost. Being a new graduate and starting my job at my alma mater’s Admissions Office that next week, thoughts of my time at the Newman Center quickly shifted to these freshmen coming in. Where would they receive the Sacraments? How would they encounter friends who can keep them accountable in the faith? And where would they go for free snacks and a broken-in napping couch?
What I did know what that I owed so much to that ministry. So, I took my first philanthropic steps and wrote a check. Giving away money from my very first grown-up paycheck – for nothing in return – felt a little weird to me. Even as a child, I had always held my purse strings tight to be ready for that next thing that I wanted for myself. Giving just for the sake of giving was a completely new concept for me. But I kept doing it because I saw a direct need that needed to be filled right away. Over time, that feeling transformed into something much more than I could have imagined.
After a year in the Truman Admissions Office, on a very much God-inspired whim, I took a job as the Assistant Director of Campus Ministry at the Newman Center serving the University of Missouri-Columbia. I loved ministry, eventually went on to complete my Masters in Theological Studies, and also became a certified campus minister through CCMA. Seeing the direct impact of campus ministry for thousands of college students throughout the years – and seeing how they impacted their faith communities post-graduation – solidified my career path, and also my philanthropic interests.
Even though I wasn’t making the big bucks working as a campus minister, I felt ever drawn to continue and even increase my giving to the Truman Newman Center and other non-profits that I was passionate about. That initial hesitation of giving over a relatively short period of time had been fully replaced with a great joy.
Henri Nouwen, a great spiritual writer, said that a giver’s need to give is greater than the receiver’s need for that gift. I wholeheartedly agree with his sentiments. I did not know I needed to give until I started to do so. Giving unlocked a part of me that I had only seen in glimpses in my life. Not only is giving saying ‘yes’ to others’ needs, but it is also saying ‘yes’ to trusting where the Lord is calling us to use our gifts. Learning to give of ourselves opens our hearts to where the Lord is calling us.
About eight years into my career, our ministry was thriving and growing tremendously. We had brought in FOCUS missionaries and their support of our already thriving ministry left us with some big questions. How can we continue to support this influx of students? Do we need a larger retreat location? How are we going to feed everyone? It became very clear that we needed a plan to increase our funding. To date, we had very small fundraising efforts which mostly centered around an end-of-year appeal and a difficult to run phone-a-thon. Our solution was to hire a director of development.
Being the fiscally responsible parish that we were, it was decided that we needed to raise at least $40,000 in order to start the hiring process. So, as a campus minister, I worked to raise that $40,000 to hire someone else. I reached out to local foundations, sent letters to faculty members, and started talking to anyone who could help me figure out how to raise that money. One major gift came in through a foundation which supported half of that total. Other smaller gifts came in that crept our funds raised ever closer to that $40,000. As I was meeting with a trusted advisor, I asked him how he thought I should approach raising the remaining $12,000 that we needed. We talked about why it was so important and the long-game for what hiring a development person could do. The day after our conversation, he came in with a check for the remaining $12,000.
Apparently, I was as surprised as he was! After going home and praying, he felt called to make the gift that would complete the first phase of this project. As a parishioner and faculty member, he could see the future of our ministry if we were able to fund this new hire. He felt passionate about that and decided that meant he was called to make an extraordinary gift. The joy that I saw in him was unmistakable – he was a man who was used to saying ‘yes’ to the Lord and this was a big ‘yes’ that he responded to with great joy.
Seeing the joy of his generosity reminded me of my reasons for giving. It reminded me that the act of giving is in fact a gift from God. All is given to us by the Lord and we are called in thanksgiving to return those gifts to the Lord. Giving of our time, our talents, and our finances are ways that we can recognize and honor what the Lord has given us.
You may have guessed the end of the story, but in attempting to hire someone else to serve as the new director of development, that someone else ended up being me! Since my knowledge of fundraising was incredibly limited at the time, our ministry signed on with Petrus. I had the great joy of working with Tara Doyon, the now Director of Client Services, as my consultant and mentor for three years. Her guidance and friendship taught me the ins and outs of development work and brought me to where I am today.
I recently stepped down from my position at the Mizzou Newman Center to focus on my family and consulting with Petrus. Whether it be working incredibly hard on a grant application, hosting alumni tailgates at homecoming, or meeting one-on-one to hear the amazing stories of our benefactors, it has been a gift to walk with so many who experience and testify to the joy of giving. As a consultant, I am excited to be able to help others new to development work have lived experiences that fundraising is not begging – it is inviting others to partner in the good work of the mission. It may not be easy. In fact, sometimes it’s incredibly difficult work. But the fruit of joy that comes from the ‘yes’ of responding to the Lord’s call is worth it every time!