18 years of foundation growth: Reflections and thanks from Judith Stockdale

By Judith Stockdale

A New Year is about looking forward, but at the end of 18-plus years at the foundation, I find myself looking back at my great learning curve and many challenging, fun, funny and marvelous experiences.

Since 1952 the foundation had been part of Gaylord and Dorothy’s active, engaged lives. When I arrived in 1994 it was poised to emerge. Gaylord’s death in 1992 had catalyzed the board’s expansion to include some energetic talent. Dorothy was actively engaged and her son Strachan Donnelley was the new chair: all were eager to forge a role in the Chicago region and South Carolina’s Lowcountry. I was hired into an invigorating scenario.

First was the need to focus a very widely encompassing philanthropic agenda into the issues of central interest to the Donnelley legacy. This process was incremental and took years. It was difficult – it’s not easy to drop long associations and there’s always the fear that focusing will mean some crucial group or idea will be missed. And, for sure, good opportunities would be missed. But the result of focusing was visible impact and rich, meaningful involvement in the areas in focus. Today we are still honing our activities, basing our next steps on directed research, but we’re committed to the focused areas and disciplines we serve.

We also took a Donnelley value to heart and have worked at honest partnerships based on equality and a straightforward, open approach. Such partnerships are not always possible to achieve, and we respect that. But when they flourish there is nothing better or more productive. This non-profit world likes to divide into funders and grantees, with the supposed power on the funder side. That is false. With all our eyes are on the prize – in our case, land conservation and artistic vitality – we succeed by working together. The investor cannot be effective without the practitioner. So we have partners and comrades among the field-experienced practitioners who “get it done”. Beyond being your investors, we (hopefully) are helpful questioners and encouraging critics. And our business and government partners rely on all of us in the non-profit sector to be the catalysts to propel and sustain their efforts. Working with everyone over these recent years has been rewarding and promising.

I leave this institution because it is at a point of potential. And I recognize that the next leap is not mine. It is for the team and another leader. David Farren has been in the office now for almost two months. He and the team are “Fired up. Ready to go!”

Behind this pivotal point has been a fabulous board. I should say “boards” because term-limit rotation (introduced in 1999) has brought a wealth of talent to our table. It has had the fabled result that comes from interaction of different minds and personalities- the cohesion of their talent, questions, challenges and support. Nothing is better for any organization.

Our staff team has grown from my lonely first two months to now nine people. With just a few fits and starts, growth has been steady. Our good fortune has been long tenures that have created a knowledgeable and bonded team. All have given time, have ferociously argued their points, and worked their hearts out. I hope they will remain among my friends.

Thank you to this wonderful board and staff. Thank you to all our partners who carry out the important work we support in the Chicago region and the Lowcountry. I am staying in Chicago with my patient husband Jonathan Boyer, and I want to keep in touch with you all.

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