Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation Executive Director David Farren to Retire at End of Year

The Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, a family foundation with a three-generation legacy in the Chicago region and the Lowcountry of South Carolina, announces that our long-term Executive Director, David Farren, will retire at year-end. Over his 11-year tenure, the Foundation has been a leading voice in both regions through cutting-edge programs in land conservation, artistic vitality, and cultural collections. At the heart of this success is our deep commitment to building lasting partnerships with the nonprofit organizations that make this important work happen day-to-day.

During David’s time, he also initiated regional conversations rooted in our core mission goals and values, includiHeadshot of David Farrenng ground-breaking family foundation practices. A planned search is now underway to identify his successor.

“David has made an incredible impact at the Foundation during his tenure,” said Laura Donnelley, chair of the Foundation board. “The communities we serve are profoundly important to us, and particularly over the last several years, our nonprofit partners have faced unprecedented challenges and opportunities. David has encouraged the Foundation to not only meet the moment, but to continue to be a thought-leader in our mission areas and the philanthropic sector.”

“With the guidance of our accomplished board of family and non-family members and in partnership with a gifted field of nonprofit leaders, I was given a rare opportunity to align my passions with the Foundation’s three mission areas. I am honored to have fostered deep and productive partnerships with our impressive grantees. Through those close collaborations, we have done vital work and accomplished so much together,” said David Farren. “The issues facing our two regions have never been more important, and I know that the Foundation and our partners will continue to shine into the future with the work of land conservation, artistic vitality, and collections.”

“David’s leadership has been thoughtful, hands-on, and forward-looking. Guiding a dedicated and talented staff, he advanced and deepened the critical work of the Foundation,” added Donnelley.

Over the past decade, the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation has centered its work in trust-based practices that meet organizations where they are, that offer flexible support so that groups may direct dollars where they are needed most, that employ an open-door policy with over 300 grantees, and that embrace transparency in foundation operations.

      • In land conservation, the Foundation has fostered partnerships and funding streams to advance resilient and accessible conserved lands across two large regions, including a network of over a million acres across the Lowcountry, and completion of dozens of major acquisition and restoration efforts in the Chicago region. Recent grants laid the groundwork for over $1 billion in additional local funding in the Chicago region, as well as several hundred million dollars in the Lowcountry.


      • In the arts, the Foundation primarily focuses on small arts organizations—supporting more than 200 groups across all disciplines—which are the lifeblood of cultural vitality in our two regions. Our “Gen Ops Plus” approach pairs multi-year grants with an array of organizational development resources. During the pandemic, the Foundation’s efforts in collaboration with our philanthropic colleagues were instrumental in providing financial support and counsel to scores of arts and culture organizations shuttered across the two regions.


      • In its third mission area, the Foundation’s heralded “Broadening Narratives” strategy encourages museums, libraries, and other cultural institutions to expand the stories told by their collections by prioritizing a wider sharing of diverse narratives from our two regions. This leading-edge approach has sparked high interest among funders across the country to support the stories and perspectives of culturally specific communities.


    • The Foundation has also been an innovator in family foundation governance, endowment stewardship, and advancing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility. Overall, grantee survey results through the Center for Effective Philanthropy have confirmed the Foundation’s top tier status in providing “bang for the buck,” putting it in the company of much larger foundations.


The Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation thanks David for his leadership during this important period in its history. The Foundation will celebrate and thank David at events in each region later this year. Please stay tuned for more information.

In anticipation of the transition, the Board of the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation has engaged Russell Reynolds Associates, the global executive search and leadership advisory firm, to partner with them on this planned leadership transition, and welcomes candidate suggestions.

To find more information on how to apply or to share candidate suggestions, please view the position specification.

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