Maggie Gilburg is the Harry Ransom Center’s new director of development. She comes from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin, where she held a similar position. Gilburg received her bachelor’s in English from Carleton College and an MBA and master’s in Arts Administration from Southern Methodist University. Since that time she has worked both in higher education and with non-profit organizations, including building the fundraising program from the ground up at The Texas Tribune.
How did you come to find yourself working in development?
I majored in English at a small liberal arts college and realized that if I wanted to work in the arts I would have to start as an intern or in an entry level job. I moved from Minnesota to Los Angeles and worked for an arts organization working in membership and admin, typing up the director’s letters on a word processor. I really loved working in this organization but knew I would need to go to graduate school in order to become the person writing the letters.
I went to graduate school for a dual degree program in business and arts administration. I have a passion for the arts, which my education strengthened. My background in literature gave me writing and people skills, and an MBA honed my analytical skills. These made me a good fit for development work.
What do you think people may not know about development?
In marketing classes in graduate school, we would have to find ways to sell a product or sell more of something, like cheese spread, and I really didn’t have the knack for tha. I like to work for mission based organizations. In fundraising you are connecting with people who are passionate about your organization’s mission. In development work, you’re generally talking to people who have already expressed an interest in your organization.
What is your vision for the development program?
I work with the Ransom Center’s leadership to understand the priorities for this vast, world-class collection. Then I strategize to attract funding for those needs. We are focusing on significant gifts to build the Center’s endowments. A long-term goal is to endow curatorial positions, exhibitions, and public programs. Our annual fundraising helps with day-to-day operations and enhancing the work that people are doing.
How have membership programs and development changed in the 30 years since you’ve begun?
We used to do everything manually, using index cards to keep track of each month’s members. We would pull January’s members in September and send out the first letter about renewal and then continue the communication program through the mail.
The format is the same today but the manner of communication has changed—we can send out emails and even text messages. Rather than mailing checks, most people give online. Many things are more efficient.
You have a lot of experience working for art organizations and also at academic libraries. How does development differ between those types of institutions?
I think most surprising is the number of similarities between them. Mission-based programs like those in the arts and here at the Ransom Center appeal to a narrow, passionate base which allows us to engage with a smaller segment of the population. We get to work with a group of people who are interested in our mission and interested in supporting the work we do.
You lived in Hong Kong for four years. What do you miss most about that experience?
I miss making friends from all over the world and seeing those friends. Living in Hong Kong was very stimulating. It is a lively, energetic place that is full of sights, sounds, and smells. There’s an energy to that kind of sensory experience and it made stepping out my door each day an adventure. The culture was engaging and I miss the excitement of those surroundings.
What was the last book you read?
I finished Swing Time by Zadie Smith just last night. Her characters are sassy and scrappy. She writes a story about two women who are best friends when they are children but whose lives take them in very different directions. It’s a heartbreaking and beautiful novel.