In this episode, Andrew interviews Frank Cummings, Director of Development – Arts and Sciences for the Kansas State University Foundation. Frank shares how he found a career in development that brings him joy, and how he especially enjoys the surprises that come as donor relationships grow. Andrew and Frank also discuss how faith can play a role in development even if you’re raising funds for a secular organization.
After graduating from high school, Frank either wanted to be an Army Ranger or a Catholic priest. He went to seminary for 4 years, but he eventually left the seminary and went to business school at Benedictine College. After earning his MBA, Frank became a financial advisor because he wanted to serve people and help them be successful with their money, yet Frank didn’t find this career path to be as fulfilling as he hoped. After trying a few other options, Frank found himself entering a career in fundraising.
Role in Philanthropy
Frank speaks extensively about his philosophy on his role as a development professional. Frank shares with Andrew his belief that as a fundraising professional his role is a service not only to the organization that employs him but to the donors he works with. When Frank meets with donors, his goal is to help them be a better person and live a joy filled life because of his philanthropic efforts with them. Frank firmly believes that the organization is secondary to the philanthropic work he’s doing. With an experienced, skillful fundraising approach, development professionals can raise money for any organization.
Andrew and Frank have a fun discussion about when and how donors have surprised them. Both men stress the importance of patiently growing donor relationships and not making assumptions about donors and their ability to give. Donors prove to be full of surprises, and Frank loves working with donors to transform their lives.
Faith in Philanthropy
Although Frank has raised money for Catholic ministries, he now intentionally chooses to work for a secular organization. He shares with Andrew that his decision to leave Catholic ministry was a struggle at first, but now realizes that just because you work for a non-Catholic institution does not mean you are not serving the Lord. His calling is to be a philanthropic advisor, and he feels a lot of freedom to live his faith in his work at Kansas State University. In this freedom, he’s learned to make his faith his own.
If you could fundraise for any organization or cause at any time in history, what would it be?
K-State Foundation: I am right where God wants me! (And, dreaming doesn’t always do us much good. We have to look at where we are in our lives and be grateful for what we have.)
If you could get a donor meeting with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
St. Francis, before he converted and when he had money. I would love to do before and after interviews.
Is there enough money out there for every organization that’s doing good work?
Oh yes, there’s an abundance of wealth. We need more good fundraisers to help people have a vision for philanthropy.
What is one piece of advice that you would give your past self?
Slow down a little bit, things are going to be good. Trust a little more. Don’t allow insecurity to make your choices. .
Who are 3 people who have most influenced you professionally?
John Flynn: He introduced me to the organization where I cut my teeth in fundraising.
Frank Shannon: He helped me get my current position.
Andrew Robinson: Andrew was pivotal in helping me discern the path to get me where I am now.
And, so, so many more!
What is one fact about you that most people don’t know?
I founded the Benedictine College rock climbing club.
What is a book that you would recommend?
Time for God by Jacques Philippe
If you would like to connect with Frank, you can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I really do love talking with Frank. He is so genuine and honest.
My first takeaway from our discussion was his amazing mindset of being in service to his donors. I have heard that from many other fundraisers over the years, but I loved Frank’s additional spin on that. He believes that what he is offering is good for his donors, and therefore, meeting with him will benefit them in a real way. I loved that mindset and how much freedom it gives him to be bold in his meeting requests and even in his solicitations.
Second, Frank spent a lot of time thinking about shifting away from his work in direct service to the Church, as if that shift would be the end of his ministry work. Frank’s witness of both how freeing it has been for him personally and the reality of how he is still able to be ministerial was really powerful. And, I agree completely that we are all called to do our work with excellence, regardless of who we are employed by today.
My third takeaway is more of a double down on that second point. I worked for the Church in my first two jobs, and I really started to struggle in my faith. This is not uncommon as the more you see the inner workings of an organization, the more you see all that frustrates you about it. Frank’s point that, even though he’s working for a secular organization, he has felt a freedom to practice his faith because he wants to and not because he is expected to was fantastic. I say this not to discourage anyone from working in ministry, but I share a recognition that, sometimes, we need to feel the freedom to leave for a time and not feel guilty about it.