News / Interviews

Meet Jane Townsend, Milkweed’s new Vice President of Advancement

Briana Gwin — 08/03/2023

We’re thrilled to introduce you to the newest member of our team: Jane Townsend! In her new role as Milkweed’s Vice President of Advancement, Jane will develop and implement strategies designed to increase philanthropic support for Milkweed Editions. She brings over twenty years of nonprofit fundraising experience to the role. Prior to joining Milkweed, Jane spent thirteen of those years with the University of Minnesota Foundation as a senior development officer, associate director of planned giving, and director of trusts and estates. She also served as managing director of development for Project Success, as inaugural development director for the Native Governance Center, and as managing director for V3 Sports. Before joining the U of M in 2001, she practiced law and worked as a trust officer and an estate planning consultant. Jane holds a BA from Colorado College and a JD from Hamline University School of Law (now Mitchell Hamline School of Law).

Read on to learn more about Jane and what it means to lead advancement at a nonprofit publisher.

Milkweed Staff (MS): Give us some context re: your professional and educational background. Where did you first learn the skills to become a fundraiser and now VP of Advancement?

Jane Townsend (JT): I’d say I really honed my technical expertise during my time at the University of Minnesota Foundation, which is also where I learned how to work collaboratively with colleagues and how to be an effective member of a leadership team. And then more broadly, while managing the whole development operation at a few different places since then has strengthened my overall development skill set and taught me how to manage teams and budgets along with other management tasks that are now aspects of the role that I welcome.

MS: Was rising to a leadership role part of a future plan or goal, or did you fall into this work more spontaneously?

JT: Yes and no. During my time at the U of M Foundation, I was offered—and began to welcome—leadership roles, but there wasn’t ever a firm trajectory for me to head a department or aspire to run an organization. But by the time I moved on to my role at Project Success, I was specifically looking for more of that leadership experience, both in managing a team and in overseeing more comprehensive development work.

MS: How did you first cross paths with Milkweed? And what drew you in?

JT: I’d been considering what might be next for me, so when a former colleague told me about an open position at Milkweeed, I was intrigued. As I learned more, and especially after a very convincing conversation with a board member, I was sold! I’ve always loved being around books. When I was little, I dreamed of becoming an editor, because I thought that meant I would get to read books all day. Of course, I eventually learned that it is so much more than that, and my education took me in a different direction, but I still love to read. This feels like a wonderful opportunity to return to that lifelong love.

The thing that most attracts me to this role is the opportunity to work with people who love books—especially the type of books published by Milkweed—and the unique approach this organization takes to publishing. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass is a wonderful example of a book that took years of development before going to print, and then took even longer to become a bestseller. The thing that’s special about nonprofit presses, and especially Milkweed, is how—thanks to the support of our donors, members, and community—we can take the time and resources to develop manuscripts that can go on to become important books for so many people.

MS: What goal or project are you currently working on at Milkweed?

JT: I’m excited to help raise funds that will allow us to build a foundation for Milkweed’s future in three key areas: innovation, capacity building, and long-term financial sustainability. On the part of innovation, we’re working toward the long term growth and success of our Multiverse and Seedbank series, as well as the expansion of our audiobook program. In thinking about capacity building, we’re enabling our staff to do more with and for the books we publish, increasing the quality and expanding the reach of our publication efforts. And for financial sustainability, we’re considering the ways we can set Milkweed up to remain fiscally sound amidst the ups and downs of the publishing industry at large, while also setting a standard for employee and author care.

MS: What challenges and opportunities do you foresee in your role?

JT: There are a couple of big areas of opportunity now that we have more human resources on our advancement team. Deepening our relationships with our longtime supporters is one important example. Another is continuing to grow our new membership program and further engaging with our members. We also know we have authors and readers all over the world, but most of our donors historically live in the Twin Cities; so another exciting area of opportunity for us will be growing our support base across the country—and the world, starting with places where we have strong concentrations of authors. And lastly, another big opportunity for us going forward will be to continue growing our fellowship program and amplifying its impact both within Milkweed and the larger publishing industry.

One challenge for Milkweed has been and continues to be that we are a small staff. There are more opportunities than we can pursue, so determining how to allocate resources in the best way is pivotal. Another challenge—and opportunity—stems from the fact that frequently in nonprofit organizations, the marketing and communications work is separate from advancement, but there’s so much alignment. So we as a leadership team are starting to look at how we can be more strategic in identifying the overlap in our efforts and bring these departments together to build a system that will make our work more efficient and effective.

MS: Is there a particular book or program that you’re excited to raise awareness about or garner more support for?

JT: I’ve been interested to see the conversation evolve around our two newest Seedbank series titles. I’m fascinated by the possibility these books provide for engaging with audiences we’ve never connected with before, beyond the predominantly white, middle-class population we see overrepresented in readership statistics. These books have the incredible potential to reach readers across cultures and different parts of the world. I’m excited about Seedbank overall and digging into its potential even more.

MS: What is your favorite book that you’ve read so far at Milkweed?

JT: House of Caravans by Shilpi Suneja, which I read as an advance copy. It comes out this September and is available for preorder now!

MS: What do you do when you’re not at work?

JT: I love to cook and experiment in the kitchen. I love summer, because we have such an abundance of fresh, local produce in Minnesota. I also like gardening and reading, of course. And I’m a huge Star Trek fan, so I’ve been rewatching the original series while awaiting new episodes of Strange New Worlds.

MS: Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers?

JT: I am thrilled to be part of the team! It has been heartwarming to connect (or reconnect) with so many people, already, over our shared love of books and of Milkweed Editions. Learning about the publishing industry is fascinating. I’m excited about the opportunities ahead. I invite anyone reading to get in touch if you have questions or want to learn more. Thank you!

Jane is a member, past chair, and current IDEA committee chair of the Minnesota Gift Planning Association and serves on the board of Daily Work, a Saint Paul nonprofit that supports people in finding and keeping work. She has held several volunteer roles in the past, including more than thirteen years on the board of Xelias Aerial Arts, a circus arts school in northeast Minneapolis where two of her kids trained to run away with the circus.

Connect with Jane via email or phone: (612) 215-2557 x 557