Selling the Sizzle: Interview with Frank Shannon
Frank Shannon, Executive Director of Development at St. Mary’s Catholic Center at Texas A&M University
In this episode, Andrew visits with Frank Shannon, Executive Director of Development at St. Mary’s Catholic Center at Texas A&M University. Frank and Andrew covered a variety of topics, including Frank’s career before St. Mary’s, how he transitioned from 25 years in higher ed to a Catholic ministry and how the current campaign at St. Mary’s is going.
- Frank’s first job out of college was as a loan officer for the Stephenville Savings and Loan but left the S&L business to became a development officer at Texas A&M after a call from Bob Walker, Vice President for Development at the Texas A&M Foundation.
- Frank’s training at Texas A&M mostly came from going on donor calls with Bob Walker and other senior development officers. It was during a meeting with Pat Zachry, long-time donor for A&M, that he realized that his work as a development officer was really about the good that he could help do for the organization. He learned how to turn common interests with donors into relationships that allowed him to demonstrate the difference that they can make.
- “People don’t give money to institutions, they give money to people.”
- After the A&M Foundation, Frank moved to the 12th Man Foundation as Associate Executive Director where he raised money for Aggie Athletics. He believes that his ability to connect with people and engender trust was what made the 12th Man hiring committee decide to hire him. Next, Frank moved to Mississippi State University where he was leading a team of development officers. Frank admitted that the “toughest job in development” is leading a team of fundraising professionals. He was responsible for setting others up for success.
- After two years, Frank was recruited to go to The Citadel where he led a team on a $100M capital campaign. This was a challenge, but they were successful in reaching their goal. After finishing the campaign, Frank started an executive search firm and then was recruited back to Texas to work at Baylor University. Frank believes that, “to grow, sometimes you have to leave an organization.” However, you “have to do a good job where you are in order to earn that opportunity to step up.”
- Frank was invited to come work at St. Mary’s in 2013 by Fr. David Konderla to help lead a campaign project. Phase 1 of the project was to expand the Student Center. This was a challenging project for a variety of reasons. Frank learned in his marketing courses that, “you don’t sell the steak, you sell the sizzle.” The first phase project was very “meat and potatoes” without much sizzle. The other reason it was challenging was because people knew that the next phase would be to build a new church would was much more attractive. They were successful in the first phase and raised $11.3M toward the project. They have now broken ground on that building project.
- Phase 2 of the campaign is to raise $20M for a new church. They do not know what the actual cost will be because the church has not yet been designed or engineered. Of the $20M goal, they have raised $14.5M including at least 6 gifts of $1M or more. This demonstrates a high level of trust because donors are supporting a project without knowing what the final product will look like.
- Currently, St. Mary’s has an annual fund of $1.8M but needs to increase to $2.0M for FY 19. Frank knows that this will not be possible without asking individual donors for significant annual fund gifts. He has told donors that they do not want to sacrifice annual fund gifts in exchange for campaign gifts. Their Living Faith Society is a name for their recurring electronic giving program. They currently have $80,000 per month coming in from 1,400 donors. Strategies for growing this program includes presentations at Mass, parents appeals, Christmas appeals, Matching Collection drives, St. Mary’s Gives, personal asks and more.
- One strategy that they have implemented for stewarding their existing donors is a new program called St. Mary’s Honors. This event is open to any donor who has lifetime giving to St. Mary’s of $50,000. They are invited to attend a special dinner in the fall where they are thanked by staff and students for their giving.
- The St. Mary’s Development Team now has 7 members including part-time help. They set aside three days every year for planning retreats and professional development.
- One couple that Frank mentioned as being particularly supportive is Joe and Shelley Tortorice. They recently made a major commitment to the New Church Campaign and have been invited to speak to the Aggie Catholic Ambassadors. Joe stressed to the Ambassadors that “we all need to invest in others.”
- “The magic happens when the donor gets engaged. That usually happens through a story.”
- Frank contributes much of his success to his fear of failure and his love of people. His final message is that if you are struggling with what to do or how to succeed, you need to do two things, “Just go back to work and keep asking for big gifts.” Three people who have influenced Frank include Dr. Ed Davis, Dr. Bob Walker and Dennis Prescott.
- Some book recommendations:
For more information about Frank Shannon and his work and to connect with him, visit https://aggiecatholic.org.
Giving to religious causes vastly exceeds any other category in the nonprofit sector, but faith-based organizations often struggle the most with fundraising effectively. Join Andrew Robison, President of Petrus Development, as he explores this topic through honest and revealing conversations with church leaders, executive directors and development professionals from the nonprofit community.
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