Never underestimate those who begin their professional careers working in the trenches. Because it’s in those trenches where rolling up your sleeves and grinding make folks tough – and successful difference-makers – for the long haul.
A case in point is Brent Dunn, who rose from radio news/sports reporting in Springfield to become the Executive Director of the Missouri State University Foundation and Vice President of University Advancement. In fact, he recently led a team that raised $274 million for an MSU campaign.
“In reporting at that time (early 1980s), relationship-building was critical because we wanted to make in-roads at City Hall, City Council and establish relationships,” Dunn said. “That was the fun part of the job. And that is sort of the critical part of fundraising – establishing relationships.”
Dunn’s ability to build relationships enhanced the lives of student-athletes and regular students at Missouri State – and in the community as well. It’s why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly honored Dunn with the 2023 ACE Award, which is bestowed on those who champion a sports-related charity in Missouri.
Dunn has worked for Missouri State University for 38 years, including since 2007 as Executive Director of the Missouri State University Foundation and Vice President of University Advancement. He is leaving the role in mid-2023 to handle fundraising for the Missouri State Fair Foundation.
Among his legacies is that the Foundation is a part of the Korn Ferry Tour’s Price Cutter Charity Championship presented by Dr Pepper, which has gifted $19.4 million to Ozarks children’s charities since 1990.
Dunn has seen to it that funds from the PCCC to the Foundation are used to provide tickets and other support to children to attend Missouri State athletic events, through the Bears Assisting Youth program which he created.
“We started it because we had all kinds of requests from different organizations to attend sporting events,” Dunn said. “This made sense because of what the Price Cutter Charity Championship does to help kids.”
A 1979 graduate of Central High School and a 1985 graduate of Missouri State, Dunn certainly has made a difference beyond that.
Which is remarkable because of his humble beginnings. Not only was a four-year letterman on Central’s golf team, but he began working in local radio while in high school. Eventually he caught on full-time with KICK AM and eventually rose to news director at KWTO AM & FM.
He began with Missouri State in 1985 as the Director of Annual Giving, later became Athletics Development Director and Assistant Director of Athletics from 1995 to 2007, at which point he took on the executive director role.
His ideas of the mid-1980s have impacted many.
“I was just starting new programs and didn’t realize how big that was going to be later down the road,” Dunn said, noting his first fundraising efforts were for the Bears Fund, which supported athletics as well as academics.
Those early years set him up well in the early 2000s for Missouri State’s efforts in constructing a new basketball arena, which received a lead gift from John Q. Hammons and is now called Great Southern Bank Arena.
Dunn was heavily involved in pulling together sponsorships for the arena’s construction and credits many in the athletic department for the success. That’s because a number of athletic programs enjoyed success, creating a positive look for the university.
Along the way, Dunn was mentored by MSU Foundation Director Greg Onstot and Athletic Director Bill Rowe (MSHOF Legend 2016).
“Because we were such a small staff, I had the opportunity to do everything,” Dunn said, noting he helped stuff fundraising envelopes. “Greg was great at relationship-building. And so was Bill. They both came from the mindset that relationships matter.”
Other mentors include his brother, Rick, as well as MSU Presidents Dr. Marshall Gordon, John Keiser, Mike Nietzel and Clif Smart.
The lessons Dunn learned were invaluable, as they fuel the success of the basketball arena’s fundraising.
In recent years, Dunn threw his energy toward MSU’s Onward Upward campaign and the Our Promise campaign, which raised $274 million. Overall, his fundraising has helped touch every facet of MSU.
Plus, he serves on the Nixa Board of Education and has chaired the Springfield Area Sports Commission and the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s golf tournament.
The support of his wife, Jennifer and their son, Dalton, have meant everything.
“When you look back, I feel like it was more than a job,” Dunn said. “It was a privilege to be a part of it.”