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Diane Barber Stine left Washington, D.C. — home of the Smithsonian and considered the museum and artifact capital of the world — to settle in Colorado Springs in 2018.

Stine, development director of the Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum, had the opportunities of museum professionals’ dreams in D.C., but she missed the tight-knit, community feel of small institutions.

“The Smithsonian is amazing and it shares all our country’s history and the biggest hits,” Stine said. “But what’s great about local institutions is that community element. … They’re creating this platform for people to share their stories.”

Stine started her museum career in college at a small, local institution, the John G. Riley Center & Museum for African American History & Culture, a historic house built in Tallahassee, Florida, around 1890 by Riley, a former enslaved man, educator and civic leader. 

She later took a huge leap forward, taking development and fundraising roles for Ford’s Theatre in D.C., the renowned site of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. But Stine said she longed for immersion in small-town stories, and the “local lens” of history.

“When our community looks at their history, they want to see themselves,” she said. “We want our exhibits, programs to be a mirror of our community.”

Stine did bring from D.C. first-of-its-kind fundraising expertise for CSPM; she’s the only director of development to have her master’s degree in museum studies, which helped the museum through five total months of closures during 2020 due to the COVID pandemic.

She revamped the museum’s website and introduced a new, streamlined online donation platform, which prompts visitors to add a donation when they reserve slots for ticketed programs — projects that paid off immensely when the pandemic forced the museum to rely on virtual fundraising, Stine said. Before the updates, the CSPM was raising around about $2,000 annually online, and in 2021 that reached $40,000 for the year, she said.

Stine also successfully modified CSPM’s annual fundraising event, Gift of History, to be an entirely online, peer-to-peer campaign, which ended up raising $106,748 and increasing the museum’s revenue by 33 percent, Leah Davis Witherow, CSPM’s curator of history, said in her recommendation for Stine. The platform Stine used to set up the virtual fundraiser was in fact one that she had read about while working on a paper about crowdfunding as a graduate student, she recalled.

Stine’s education on grant writing also paid off during one of her first projects as CSPM’s development director in 2019, when she secured a $290,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to help fund the purchase and installation of a new HVAC system for the museum’s offsite collection storage space.

The museum had applied for the grant in the past and was declined.

“It was great to be able to review what the previous applicant had done,” Stine said, “and be able to bring my expertise to the table.” The HVAC system was “very, very sexy to fundraise for,” she joked. 

All jokes aside, thanks to her education background, Stine knew how to communicate the system’s importance for caring and preserving CSPM’s 70,000 artifacts. In all, Witherow said, Stine raised $400,000 for the project.

“The National Endowment for Humanity, they’re experts who know about this — who know the importance of it,” Stine said. “Being able to prove to them not only that we needed the funding, but that we would be able to accomplish this project, was the biggest [achievement] for me.”