A former California woman with deep ties to the local area was recently welcomed as JCPRD’s new development director.
Bringing an extensive background in leadership, sports, entertainment, strategic development, government/public affairs, and fundraising, Erika Frantz Seward started in her new position on Feb. 1.
“I’m so excited to join JCPRD in a role that advances important work and gives back to this wonderful community that has profoundly shaped my life,” said Seward. “Returning home with my family after all of these years is a dream come true.”
She has always called Kansas home, Seward says. Born in northern Virginia, her father relocated the family to Olathe at a young age, and it was there that she began school and discovered a natural talent for soccer on Johnson County fields. Many years later after a family move to central Florida, she returned to the heartland to pursue bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sports administration at the University of Kansas while working for the KU Athletic Department and ESPN Regional Television.
“Throughout my time at ESPN, I learned all aspects of what it takes to run a media business and how the many parts contribute to the whole,” she said. “But the biggest takeaway was the importance of connecting with fans and telling a good story.”
Seward spent a decade in sports and entertainment gaining a strong business acumen and appreciation for the power of storytelling and the media’s influence. During her tenure with ESPN, she served on the executive team that built brands and promotional strategies for the NFL, PGA Tour, USGA, X Games, and later, within ESPN Marketing in New York City, oversaw corporate synergy for priority projects across the Walt Disney Company’s entire portfolio. In the decade that followed, she transferred her knowledge and experience towards strategic development, fundraising, and government/public affairs to impact positive change and address resilience issues like food insecurity, wildfire mitigation, public safety, environmental and community health, and more.
“I wanted to apply what I learned to the non-profit sector and causes I cared about,” she said. “Non-profit work is HARD work. It’s also incredibly rewarding. For ten years I managed nonprofits and fundraised to keep the lights on, pay my staff, and bring some amazing projects to life. Producing content to events, securing major gifts, creating campaigns, meeting with legislators and more - each day presented a new way to engage and inspire action. In that time, there was also tremendous personal growth balancing my relationship, family, and commitments to the many people that counted on me. I learned that you could “go further together” than as an individual and that listening is a skill, especially to yourself.”
Most recently, Seward served as co-executive director of Bear Yuba Land Trust in northern California promoting the protection and stewardship of natural and working lands while fostering healthy communities through nature access, trails, and sustainable recreation. Her leadership and vision has helped the organization grow to more than 16,000 acres of permanently-protected lands with 45 miles of trails and seven public access preserves, including the acquisition of critical farmland that is the largest organic produce provider for families from Reno-Tahoe to the Sierra Foothills. Additionally, she has sat on numerous boards and committees including the Nevada County Solid & Hazardous Waste Commission, Nevada County Food Policy Council, and Sierra Nevada Alliance as board treasurer.
As development director, Seward’s responsibilities will include securing donations through the implementation of a fundraising plan. She will work closely with JCPRD staff to identify needs and generate funds for facilities and programs, and will also serve as executive director of The Parks and Recreation Foundation of Johnson County
. She will support both TPRFJC and the Johnson County Museum Foundation in their fundraising efforts, and will work to identify individual donors, grants, charitable events, marketing opportunities, and corporate investors to assist JCPRD in achieving its goals. She will also serve as a member of JCPRD’s Administrative Team.
“In many ways, I feel like all the experience I’ve gained from both the corporate and non-profit worlds has led me to this moment,” she said. “This role embodies the best of both. I’m naturally strategic, love to learn, and deeply value relationships and collaboration. Playing to my strengths is energizing, and I bring that enthusiasm to this position, knowing it’s a good fit for the development role and how I can best support the organization. I believe development is central to the work everyone here does each day. I hope to bring a systems approach that translates across each division for securing grants, sponsorships, and diverse sources of funding as well as finding common ground solutions that connect us whether that be the sharing of ideas, talent, or resources to help us reach our goals.”
Seward said one of her goals is to tell the story of why land preservation is so important: “for meeting community needs, protecting these natural spaces and strengthening our connection to the places we play - whether that’s parks, trails or the facilities built on these lands. Sharing in the history, acknowledging those that came before us, and being good stewards through financial support - it’s an important message and one I feel will grow our land base, foundation membership, and capacity for the benefit of present and future generations. A strategic plan is in the works to chart our course.”
Seward said she also looks forward to being part of the internal JCPRD effort to educate the organization about diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“An amazing opportunity exists to invite representation and participation from a broad spectrum of communities throughout Johnson County and the greater Kansas City area,” she said. “It’s a commitment that will make for a richer, vibrant organization and I’m excited to see how we grow.”
Overall, being back in the Sunflower State feels like she’s come full circle, she said.
“I’m so grateful to be back in Kansas once again raising my children Kira (13) and Henry (11) and being so close to my parents, brothers, niece, and nephews,” Seward said. “We’ve all been enjoying the start of this new chapter with family meals each night and DIY home projects. When the weather warms up, the kids and I are looking forward to hitting the trails regularly, stand-up paddle boarding, and discovering all that JCPRD and the Midwest has to offer. I plan to dust off my golf clubs too!”