Anna Barber Pivots from Athletics to Helping Black Organizations Excel

As a lifelong competitive swimmer, Anna Barber started her undergraduate degree at Howard University knowing that she wanted to pursue a career as an athletic director. After graduating, she headed to Arizona State University where she continued to lay the groundwork for a future in athletics — and earned her law degree. 

“I worked as a graduate assistant in the athletic department for two of the three years that I was in law school,” Anna says. “I studied intellectual property and alternative dispute resolutions, preparing me for a career as an athletic director, at least that’s what I was thinking at the time. And then upon graduation, I ended up working for the athletic director there at Arizona State.” 

A passion for sports takes a surprise turn 

During her tenure at Arizona State University, she was mentored by Gene Smith, who is considered one of the preeminent athletic directors in the country, and his equally respected wife, Sheila, who served as the associate vice president of development. Together, they encouraged Anna to go into fundraising and development as an accelerated path to becoming an athletic director. This marked her first foray into fundraising, which eventually helped her land a major gift position at Miami University in Ohio.

“That was a great experience because, six months into my tenure at Miami University, the director of development left, and they were launching a campaign,” Anna explains. “I wound up helping the university launch the athletic component of the campaign. And I learned a lot in a very short tenure being at Miami. From there, I was recruited to go to Michigan State to work with one of the gentlemen that I worked with at Arizona State and development.”

Accelerating her development career 

Her experiences, connections, and talent continued to propel her career and eventually led to a job at the Smithsonian in Washington DC where she was the first central major gift officer. As part of her new position, she represented all 19 museums and nine research centers. While the Smithsonian is a well-established institution, the Advancement Office was still evolving and the National Museum of African American History was in the early stages. 

Ultimately, Anna played an integral role in raising the necessary funds for the National Museum of African American History. She built the donor base from scratch and was part of the team that raised $350 million in philanthropic support to bring this historic project to fruition.  

Growing the small business landscape 

After her time with the Smithsonian, she started Barber & Associates, a boutique fundraising consulting firm that helps non-profit organizations build and enhance their development infrastructure to more effectively fundraise. Anna believes that many non-profit’s have the potential to raise significantly more philanthropic dollars with the right vision, best practice planning, and execution. Anna prioritizes her time to work with organizations whose purpose aligns with her passion for uplighting the Black community.  

“I generally select organizations that I work with based on the mission of the organization, versus just taking on clients for the sake of taking on clients. What really drives me is wanting to see equity, parity, and equality in the world. Developing strategies for bringing these ideals to the forefront is of utmost importance. We have to recognize and understand that there have been racial challenges in the United States for 400 years.  Society at large must think creatively and out of the box to successfully address these challenges, and then be persistent in making strides towards progress.” 

Now, looking back, Anna reminds early-career professionals and students to dig in, work hard, and be open to what comes next. “Be persistent in what you want to do. I don’t think that there is anyone that has achieved greatness without persistence.”