Building legacies: Alumnus J Mullineaux on communication in philanthropy

MullineauxW. John “J” Mullineaux (B.A., 1982) has been asking himself the big questions — about meaning and purpose in life — since he was an undergraduate.

The answer has evolved over the years, but for Mullineaux, who currently works as the Vice President for Philanthropic Planning at Community Foundation Sonoma County, it’s always related to serving others.

“I’ve raised a lot of money. If I try to quantify it, it’s probably over $400 million,” he said of his 30-year career in fundraising, gift planning and charitable advising. “I’ve always been asking myself, what’s my purpose?”

At the UW, Mullineaux was driven by a passion for the arts. He was a few credits shy of a degree in Dance, but chose to focus on Communication. He followed this passion to New York City, where he ended up earning a degree in organizational psychology at Columbia University while working at the college in the development office.

“I really loved the work, so I just ended up staying with that as a career,” he said. Mullineaux had the leadership skills and, in part thanks to UW Comm, the communication skills necessary to succeed on the job. “All of that stuff in school helped me with the fundamentals of communications and development work – it gave me many opportunities to really apply what I learned. Why don’t more people realize you can take this degree in Communication and apply it to a field like advancement? It’s just natural.”

Eventually, he found himself back on the West Coast, building a life in San Francisco with his partner and working in arts advancement. “Even though I ended up not being a performer, I could still be in the field,” he said. “There are so many careers in the arts, it’s not just on the stage, and it’s often better money.”

After a long career with the ballet, Mullineaux decided to move to different arts-related projects, including working with the campaign that established San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum in 2003.

“I moved to that campaign because I wanted to drive by when I was older and say, I worked on that and made that building possible,” he said. “I really made career choices that allowed me to grow and think about my own personal legacy.”

Now, Mullineaux is helping others craft their legacies. At Community Foundation Sonoma County, he meets with individuals and their families who are getting older and want to make sure the wealth they accumulated in their lifetime means something long after they’re gone.

“I have a lot of people who come to me and who have had great careers and have been really focused on that,” he said. “But eventually, everyone sits back and says, ‘Is this it? Is there something else?’ and I’m the guy who can help them find that other piece.”

Now in his mid-50s, Mullineaux is looking to slow down and plan the following decades so that they maximize satisfaction and service. He plans to spend the rest of his career in Sonoma County, but when he retires, he hopes to move to the Olympic Peninsula.

“There are all these people at the UW who set such a tremendous example for me,” Mullineaux said. “Partly, it’s going to class, but partly it’s the example that everyone is setting. You need to go to college because you’re going to meet so many people who are going to give you all the pieces that you need to live your life.”

Mullineaux said he hopes to engage more directly with the UW once he’s back in the region. He wants to set an example for others, and bring philanthropy with him.

“I think philanthropy should be taught from day one, because universities are the best place to teach people,” he said. “Universities need to own that position to teach people the bigger definition of what it means to be a philanthropic person.”

Written by Eleanor Cummins