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Worthy of Profound Generosity - Interview with Michelle Sutton on the Petrus Development Show

In this episode, Andrew visits with Michelle Sutton, Director of Development at the Duke Catholic Center.  They discuss a variety of strategies in fundraising within campus ministries. Talking about interacting and building relationships with their students, parents and community. And how to build a sustainable annual fund by creating long-term strategy.

Show Notes:

Michelle is a graduate of Duke University with a political science major. She spent her college summers working in Washington, D.C. and realized that a career in politics is not what she wanted. While at college she was very involved in student ministry and two months before graduation, was offered the Director of Development job at Duke Catholic Center. The first thing she did once accepting the job was to attend the Petrus Development Conference in 2012.

Duke Catholic Center

When Michelle became Director of Development in 2012, the center had 5 staff members and was functioning at a $600,000 annual budget. Now, at the end of the last fiscal year, the center has 11 staff members and runs at a $1.25 million budget.

They have been able to double their size over the last 8 years by focusing on growth in their annual fund and growing their donor pipeline. Their pool of donors comes from alumni, parents, faculty and staff.

Parent Group Strategies

They focus over the summer and fall semesters to meet as many freshmen students and parents. By keeping a record of student involvement, they are able to cultivate relationships and reach out to parents for feedback and advice. People aren’t used to getting calls from campus ministry, so getting those calls can be encouraging and enlightening. Studies show that 80% of Catholics that will leave the Church, will do so between the ages of 18-24. Having their child's campus ministry reach out to them, shows parent’s that they care.

Fr. Mike Martin has been extremely valuable and supportive of the development program. It’s so important to have that support.

What Michelle has learned over the years is that you have to be okay with close to perfect. It’s necessary in order to move forward and take action. And through it all personal outreach is most important. Much more important that having things perfect.

Making the big ask, not the perfect ask, opens the eyes of donors to what’s possible. Michelle says that you may not benefit right in that moment from the big ask. You might be told no, but it opens the door to the possibility of what’s possible. The rising tide raises all ships. We need to be bold. Campus ministries are worthy of profound generosity.


Michelle spends time volunteering and serving outside of Duke. She knows they value of learning from others and allowing others to learn from you.

Find a couple of organizations you want to support and give to them. Notice what the experience is like and learn from it. Serve on boards and steering committees. Become involved in your community.


She has an 8-month-old baby boy, James. Being a new mom has shifted her priorities in the work load. Being super-efficient.

In the same way, focus on donors. You need to focus on long-term strategies. Build a sustainable annual fund with smaller donations and cultivate certain donors for special projects. You can’t rely on the big donor for the annual fund, for when they’re priorities change, you’re left in a deficit and in crisis.


Michelle has been a dancer, specifically ballet, since her childhood. In fact, ballet introduced her to her first stint in fundraising. She had to earn a portion of the funds needed for a ballet program and she ended up writing appeal letters to friends and family. It worked! She got to attend the program. And now, she enjoys ballroom dancing with her husband.

Lightning Round

  1. If you could fund-raise for any organization at any time, what would it be?
    • Probably something in the Arts, specifically Ballet. Or finding non-profits that focus on building families and parenting.
  2. If you could get a donor meeting with anybody dead or alive, who would it be
    • Henri Nouwen or Taylor Swift
  3. Is there enough money out there for everybody?
    • Absolutely. I think people can give more and our challenge is helping people to do just that.
  4. If you could go back in time and offer yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
    • Just encouragement
  5. Who are three people who have influenced you the most in the fundraising world?
    • Her AP mentor in college, Barbara Collins and Fr. Mike Martin

And here are Andrew's three takeaways:

  1. How important parents have been in campus ministry fundraising and how to tap into that potential.
  2. Focusing on donors between $1,000-$10,000 to build a sustainable annual fund.
  3. How important volunteering and giving back is to not only yourself, personally, but also to your ministry.


Action item: Find 3 non-profits that are new to you and you are passionate about and give to them. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money but something more than $10 if possible. Then learn from your experience. From the initial interface to the response you get. And take that information back to your ministry and how can you utilize it. Try giving through their online portal, calling them or sending a check.


If you want to connect with Michelle, you can reach out to her at or find her on the website


If you have questions, or want to share a success story, email me at or send us a Facebook message. We’re always happy to help. God bless.


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