Tracy Milkowski was the first member of her family to attend college, receiving a bachelor’s in business management from Mount Mary University and a master’s in Business Administration from Concordia University. After 13 years managing the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Division of Surgical Education, she decided it was time for a career change. “No one ever says, ‘When I grow up, I want to become a fundraiser.’ Most of us accidentally come upon this profession, just as I did,” Milkowski says. “But once you witness all the good that comes from those who donate, you begin to realize the opportunities it will bring to so many and the life-changing outcomes it will have, such as being the first in the family to graduate college.” Milkowski worked in several executive-level fundraising roles at colleges around southeastern Wisconsin before taking her current position as the vice president for institutional advancement at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design in 2021. The college launched a $10 million comprehensive fundraising campaign, which has so far raised $8.5 million under her leadership. “I am fortunate to be able to meet so many kind people whose purpose is to make a difference in the lives of others by giving back, and I get to have a front row seat on the impact their gifts have made for so many of our students – the gift of an education,” Milkowski says. Last year the college was able to award $18 million in student scholarships.
“Treat people with kindness, lead with passion, and you’ll find your purpose.”
You said, “Most of us accidentally come upon this profession.” Could you explain more about how you ended up in fundraising?
Starting back in high school, I knew I wanted to attend college, even though no one in my family had ever attended college. I majored in business at Mount Mary University, and then received an MBA from Concordia University, with an emphasis in healthcare administration. After graduating, I worked at the Medical College of Wisconsin for 13 years in the surgical education department. I knew I was ready for a career change, but was unsure what that would be. I attended a networking breakfast at Mount Mary, and a few months later I became the director for the Women’s Leadership Institutee. At that time, my boss had told me I had the personality of a fundraiser – she said I was a “natural born fundraiser.” She wanted me to transition to a fundraising position at Mount Mary, but I told her I was not interested. After six months of saying no, I decided to take the leap into the world of fundraising and never looked back. It has now been over a decade and in February 2021, I became Vice President for Institutional Advancement at MIAD. I remember during my first interview with the President, Jeff Morin, there was no doubt in my mind I wanted to work there. I could see the passion he had for the college and the students we serve. I am grateful I have a job I love coming to and the opportunity of witnessing all the good work the MIAD community does every day to make sure our students are set up for success.
Outside of your work, you also volunteer quite a bit. What inspires that?
It is inspiring to see so many people give up their personal time to volunteer for other organizations, with their main purpose of helping individuals live a better life. Volunteering provides an opportunity to serve and learn from others. It breaks down barriers of the understanding we are all very similar no matter of our backgrounds. I am currently Board Chair for the PWSAC – Gallery 224 in Port Washington. Volunteering provides an opportunity to make an impact in the communities for which we work, live and play in. My hope is to encourage others to volunteer, because I know at the end of the day, I am fulfilled with the thought I may have made a small difference in someone’s life for the good.