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Alumnae in the Arts:

Maureen Millmore ’13

Maureen Millmore ’13 is a Major Gifts Coordinator at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Since graduating from Mount Holyoke, Millmore has held positions at a number of important New York cultural institutions, including the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. In this installment of the blog series Alumnae in the Arts, Associate Curator Hannah Blunt interviews Millmore about the essential functions of museum development.

March 20, 2017
Hannah Blunt

Alumnae in the Arts: Maureen Millmore ’13, Major Gifts Coordinator, Whitney Museum of American Art

Interview by Hannah W. Blunt, Associate Curator

First, thank you for allowing me to interview you for mhcameo! I think an appropriate question to start might be to ask you about your trajectory from Mount Holyoke, where you were an art history and economics double major—and also a beloved MHCAM intern—to your recent post as a major gifts coordinator at the Whitney. What led you to the field of fundraising and museum development?

Thank you for inviting me to speak about my experiences and career! I had a great time at Mount Holyoke, particularly at the Museum, and knew that I wanted to work in the arts after I graduated. I wasn't particularly sure what I wanted to do though, and was considering maybe going into the curatorial side of things, or perhaps education. I was lucky enough to get an internship at the Warhol Foundation, which was a very research-oriented role right after I graduated, in New York. When that ended, I had to find a 'real' job to pay the bills, and so I took a job at a park conservancy in the city and worked as an executive assistant and office manager. I didn't love my job, but it was small enough of an office that I ended up doing a little of everything, and I gravitated towards the development team. I finally realized that I was spending more and more of my time working on development projects, and a light bulb went off in my head. I realized that fundraising was a way that I could really support and advocate for the arts, and that I enjoyed working in development every day.

My next position was in major gifts at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which was a great learning experience and helped me land my current position at the Whitney. It's been a little bit of a roller coaster, and I'm really glad that I'm back working at a Museum! I also decided that a graduate degree would be helpful, and found a specialized program at Columbia University that was exactly what I wanted. So, along with my job at the Whitney, I'm halfway through getting an M.S. in Nonprofit Management, which has really helped me at work. 

Can you describe a specific skill or experience that you gained at Mount Holyoke or MHCAM that you use regularly in your professional life?
 
Without a doubt, I think it's my writing skills. Being a good writer is key, since development is all about writing well and clearly, and knowing how to use language to create the right tone for the situation. Also, being a good writer makes you a better speaker, I think, which is also absolutely essential in this kind of a job.  

Let’s hear about your role at the Whitney. What does a typical day (or week) look like for a gifts coordinator at a top-tier, internationally-recognized museum? What are the unique challenges of fund- and gift-raising at an institution of that caliber?

There is quite a lot going on at any given time, but always something interesting! Currently, I support and help coordinate five acquisition committees at the Museum, as well as three additional patron groups, one of which travels internationally. This means that a lot of my job is event and travel coordination, as well as coordinating meetings and communicating with staff at the Museum. As someone on the Advancement team, I end up working with literally every department at the Museum. I also do a lot of the administrative tasks: writing gift renewal letters, fielding questions from donors, etc. And, I have a few auxiliary projects going on right now, including helping to update the major gifts section of the website. When needed, I also help out with events that my colleagues are working on. It's all hands on deck for big events, like the Art Party and Gala! 

The Whitney Museum is the largest place that I've worked; there are about nine full time employees just on the major gifts team, and balancing tasks is really challenging. I've gotten to the point where I plan my day down to the minute, and it's important to be able to switch back and forth between different tasks and different groups from minute to minute. Being able to stay flexible and focused at the same time is so key! 

And by the way, what constitutes a “major gift”?

 A major gift is different at every institution, and generally depends on the size of the institution and budget. At the Whitney, a gift of $3,000+ is a major gift. 

Muholi, Zanele, Lumka Stemela, Nyanga East, Cape Town, from the series Faces & Phases
Photo Credit: 
Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972), Akhona Hentili, Makhaza, Khayelitsha, from the series Faces & Phases, gelatin silver print photograph, 35 3/4 in x 24 13/16 in, Purchase with the Madeleine Pinsof Plonsker (Class of 1962) Fund, 2014.6.1

 

Elizabeth Merritt, the founding director of the Center for the Future of Museums, has quipped that “people are sexier than their organizations,” to make the point that museum development (and fundraising of all kinds) is much more about relationships and individuals than anything else. Do you agree? Can you share any stories or anecdotes from your experience that illustrate that idea?

Well, I don't know about sexier, but the staff of any institution--and development staff in particular--are definitely the face of their organization. I do think it's really important to be 100% behind the mission and activities of the organization that you are working for. In this line of work, sincerity is absolutely key. Often, the relationship you have with a donor is a big part of their relationship with the Museum, and that's a big responsibility, but also gives you a chance to whole-heartedly advocate for your institution. Honestly, I would replace 'sexier' with personable and engaging. It's important that a donor like you as a person just as much as they like the institution.   

Taking us back to Mount Holyoke, and to MHCAM specifically, do you have a favorite artwork from the collection? We always like to know!

Oh, gosh! I have so many! I have to say that the Zanele Muholi photographs that the Museum acquired fairly recently are probably my favorite part of the collection. Whenever I see one of her portraits, I can't stop looking at it, and imagining the life and experiences of the person in the portrait. Her work is stunning. As a lesbian, I'm also so personally touched by her artistic vision and I can't wait to see how her career unfolds. 

Maureen Millmore '13 was an alumae panelist at the 2017 Crafting a Life in the Arts (CALA) event at Mount Holyoke. See more about this and past CALA events here