Anna Barber, J.D., was the frontline fundraiser for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture (NMAAHC). Ann Boyd-Stewart, assistant dean of development and alumni relations at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, interviewed Barber about her role at the museum and her path to the fundraising profession.
How did you become a fundraiser?
Anna Barber (AB): I went to law school at Arizona State University because I wanted a way to begin my path towards being an athletic director. My first job working in athletics was as a management associate, which exposed me to executive-level management, including fundraising. The athletic director and his wife, who was the chief fundraiser for Arizona State, encouraged me to pursue development as a career.
In my first role as a major gifts officer at Miami University, the lead fundraiser left six months into my tenure; and as a result, I was given the responsibility of launching the athletics department’s campaign. My second role as a major gifts officer at Michigan State University allowed me to hone my fundraising abilities through a strong metric-driven program. The only way for me to compete was to find the untapped and overlooked donor base—women! It taught me to look beyond the obvious prospects and donors, and find the market that no one is looking for.
While I enjoyed my tenure in college athletics, I realized I really wanted to 1) make more of an impact with my fundraising skill set and 2) move back to DC. I applied for positions at two prestigious institutions, the UN Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution, and I got the Smithsonian position.
It wasn’t until I arrived on campus that I realized that the NMAAHC was in the works. Shortly after, a majority of my portfolio became the untapped and overlooked prospect base for the Smithsonian: African Americans.
What did you find at the Smithsonian?
AB: When I arrived at the Smithsonian, it was in the infancy of developing a central major gifts program. Since a majority of the Smithsonian’s budget (70 percent) is federally funded, they had not had a long track record of building its donor base. Additionally, of the major donors they had acquired, diversity was lacking. The brand and the quality of the work were strong, the Institution just needed to start building and diversifying its base.
You raised $40 million for the museum. Can you talk about that process?
AB: The Smithsonian and NMAAHC were delivering a quality project, with its mission, purpose, and goals clearly defined. That helped me in defining and delivering my pitch to new prospects and donors. However, building a donor base from scratch required extensive networking across the country, with my primary focus being on donors in California. Relentless outreach, and purposeful and strategic conversations and meetings, helped me build a network of influencers and donors that ultimately contributed that $40M.
Working with donors out in the field energized me and gave me motivation. When times got rough, “the presence of the ancestors” who wanted this museum to open guided me.
You’ve seen the recent research that shows high net worth donors of color feel isolated and haven’t developed peer networks but you did that through several events. How did you choose those specific events?
AB: I used events strategically, and worked to build a sense of community around them. Early on in the project, before groundbreaking, I used an event at Ann and Gordon Getty’s home in San Francisco to establish credibility for NMAAHC in Northern California. We closed roughly $8M just after that event. Six months before the grand opening, we used Pauletta and Denzel Washington’s home as a fundraising event to encourage gifts at the Founding Donor level ($1M+). We raised $17M as a result of the event, but the biggest outcome was the plethora of Founding Donor gifts that closed after the publicity from that event.
Even for the under 40 generation, through an ambassador program, we created a sense community. If you were under 40 and could give between $5,000, $10,000 and $25,000, we had the network they wanted to be a part of. In every aspect of our fundraising and events strategies, we built in a sense of community; The purpose was clear—the country and our community needed this museum. We could not progress as a society without it.
What kind of work are you doing now?
AB: I started a boutique fundraising consulting firm, Barber & Associates, LLC. My niche markets are organizations that work within the African-American community, or organizations that are interested in broadening their base into this market. There is a lot of work to be done out there.
What are your goals for the fundraising profession?
AB: I want to institute a formal degree program to give people of color the training, mentorship, and support to become both frontline fundraisers and senior leaders within the fundraising profession. Even outside communities of color, these positions are hard to fill. Creating a viable pipeline of candidates is important to me. I was fortunate to have a strong support system, but I think this is rare.
Additionally, I want to encourage more research focused on the intersection of philanthropy and its impact on the African-American community. The Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy is doing some really interesting work in this area.
Learn more about the Diverse Speaker Series that will feature national philanthropy leaders in Indianapolis during the 2018-19 academic year, and other events and conferences supported by the Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy.