By Jamie Cappetta, President, USC Caruso Catholic Center and Petrus Consultant
Like many development professionals, I didn’t start my career aspiring to be a fundraiser, but rather my aspiration was that of a professional baseball player. However, when I did not get drafted my senior year in college having played all four years at the University of Richmond, I decided to scratch the itch of the priesthood that had been ruminating in my heart for several years. The first step in that exploration was as a youth minister in South Boston for two years, followed by a year of discernment. During that discernment year, I worked at the Catholic Worker House in Philadelphia, the Christian Appalachian Project in Kentucky, and finally made a solo, three-month pilgrimage to Europe with one question in mind: “Lord, am I called to be a priest?”
Returning from that trip in May 2000, I confidently knew God was not calling me to the priesthood, but my heart remained committed to Church ministry. I was fortunate to get a job as a campus minister at the University of Massachusetts and began my Master’s in Ministry from St. John Seminary. As the campus minister at the University of Massachusetts, Newman Center, I met my future wife, Kristina, as well as became friends with John Flynn, co-founder of Petrus.
At that point, Petrus was just getting off the ground and UMass was one of its first clients. When John and I first met, he was trying to persuade me to leave my role as campus minister and become a full-time fundraiser. My answer was “hell no!” At that point, fundraising was simply a necessary evil to help pay the bills. How naïve I was! Through my friendship with John, he opened my eyes to the power of fundraising.
“Asking people for money is giving them the opportunity to put their resources at the disposal of the Kingdom.” The Spirituality of Fundraising, Henri Nouwen
In addition, John showed me how a career in Catholic philanthropy could provide both sustenance for my professional career and financial stability for a growing family. As a result of our friendship, I transitioned from direct campus ministry to the ministry of development. John remains a mentor to this day.
While I was at Amherst, I had the great fortune of meeting Father Bob Beloin, who at the time was Chaplain of St. Thomas More Chapel (STM) at Yale University. It was through that friendship, as well as that of Kerry Robinson, former Director of Development at STM, that I was invited to join the STM staff.
When I took that job in 2006, I was a bit insecure. They had just completed a $22M capital campaign to build a new student center and my job was to help them raise another $5 million to renovate the Chapel. I was following in the footsteps of Kerry Robinson, another amazing fundraiser, who has made the ministry of development the foundation of her career.
Father Bob and the development team had formed 10+ year relationships with benefactors, and I knew that those kinds of relationships can’t simply be transferred to me. However, he and Kerry graciously encouraged me to use my personal strengths and grow the department in a different way. Although this phase of the campaign was a challenge, we were able to engage new benefactors and re-engage lapsed ones. After four years, we completed the campaign, and the remaining four years were focused on stewardship and building up our annual fund.
In 2014, I had the opportunity to take a new position at the University of Southern California, all the way on the other coast. Like STM, USC had just completed a $30M campaign and was looking for someone to help run the organization. The idea behind this new hire was to free the pastor from administration and fundraising duties and thereby allow him to focus on the sacramental life of the parish. The idea intrigued me and so, after several months of discernment with my wife, we took the professional and personal leap of faith.
As you can see, development is a ministry that has changed the trajectory of my career through opportunities I never could have imagined. Development has allowed me to meet and make friends with inspiring and generous priests, religious, and lay people.
As I look back on my career, I’m grateful for the blessings that the ministry of development has brought to my family. Development has blessed my own spiritual life and that of my family’s in ways that I never could have anticipated. A career in Catholic development communicates to our six children (with one more on the way!) that “church” isn’t something that you just do on Sunday. Our family gets to meet many faithful Catholics who use their resources for good. Our family sees firsthand that wealth provides not only great opportunity, but great responsibility.
My advice to those who want to grow in their careers in development:
Pray—for you to be in cooperation with God’s plan for YOU and your ministry.
Practice boldness in fundraising! Stretching beyond what makes you comfortable lets you grow your skills and prepares you to take advantage of opportunities.
Don’t be afraid to make the “ask.” Fear of failure is really a fear of asking. Don’t overthink the situation or talk yourself into long delays. People aren’t rejecting YOU when they say “no.” In fact, their reasons probably have nothing to do with YOU. God is in charge of it all, and his timing is what matters. Your job is to ask.