Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation Executive Director Position Specification

About the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation

Founded in 1952, the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation supports land conservation, artistic vitality, and collections for the people of the Chicago region and the Lowcountry of South Carolina. The Foundation’s founders, Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley, believed passionately that land, arts, and collections are essential to our humanity and reveal who we are as a people: past, present, and future.

    • Land Conservation
      Nurturing a healthy planet begins with taking care of where we live. Protected areas and working lands — restored, and sustainably managed — are critical to both natural systems and humans. Stewarding our natural resources on which all life depends is imperative to our survival. Particularly in the face of climate change, land conservation is vital to protecting our water resources, addressing flooding, carbon storage, recreational opportunities, open space, and sound land use planning. All communities, including those of color, must be engaged in these critical conversations through equitable inclusion in the field.
    • Artistic Vitality
      Arts organizations – creatively accomplished and operationally strong – nurture our artists and help build vibrant communities. Art brings every type of person into the arena and invites them to find solace, engage with difference, and dream beyond the present moment. The Foundation values arts organizations across all disciplines, traditions, and communities, as they spark new ideas, bring forward voices, and challenge the way we see ourselves and think about the world.
    • Collections
      Collections provide the opportunity to bring to light diverse narratives that provide perspectives from the past, contribute to a better-informed present, and lead to a more inclusive, sustainable and healthier future. The Foundation encourages collecting organizations in our two regions to amplify overlooked voices and animate and expand the stories and insights derived from their collections. Diverse narratives include the stories and perspectives of culturally specific communities—African Americans, Indigenous peoples, and other people of color—LGBTQ perspectives, working-class narratives, experience of those with disabilities, small community experiences, as well as other underrepresented groups and viewpoints. Emerging, compelling, underrepresented perspectives reflective of collections in the areas of science, public health, and the natural world are also important to our regions’ collective narratives.


The Foundation is a family foundation that incorporates leading-edge philanthropic practices. It is governed by a diverse, 13-member Board of Directors. While the legacy of Gaylord and Dorothy continues through the active involvement of their children and grandchildren, most of the Board and committee members have been non-family members, selected to provide diversity of thought and expertise in the Foundation’s three grantmaking areas and across their two regions. The Board has six operating committees, each with a dedicated staff liaison.

As a grantmaking foundation, the Foundation has developed a proactive, collaborative approach to working in partnership with grantees, other funders and an array of public and private partners. Beyond grant awards, the Foundation supports its grantees and programs through technical assistance programs, convenings, a cash reserve program, program-related investments (low-interest loans and guarantees), communications, policy advocacy and other related efforts. The Foundation strives to build deep partnerships, generate catalytic impact, and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in all aspects of its programs and operations.

Funding is divided almost equally between the land conservation and the arts and collections combined. Other mission-advancing activities are conducted by a staff of ten professionals, alongside a number of key partners.

The Foundation understands that the structure and institution of philanthropy have contributed to systemic inequities. Its equity work is embedded into every area of the Foundation– program, finance, and governance. To achieve equity in its regions, the Foundation strives to use its resources to shift power to those most impacted, including – but not limited to – African Americans, Indigenous peoples, and other people of color, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, and people from under-resourced communities.

The Foundation has offices in and distributes grants to organizations in both the Chicago region and the Lowcountry of South Carolina.

The Foundation distributes nearly $7-8M in grants annually to nearly 300 organizations.

The Foundation has a talented team of 10 full-time employees.

The Foundation’s net assets are in excess of $200M.

The Role

Reporting to, and working closely with, the Board, the Executive Director (“ED”) will be responsible and accountable for leading the overall strategic direction and management of the Foundation to achieve its vision, mission and objectives. Building on the Foundation’s 70-year legacy of impact, the ED will chart the path forward with an ambitious drive and vision for increased impact across the Foundation’s next chapter. The ED will lead collaboratively and with integrity, providing the infrastructure, learning, and professional development needed to be leaders in trust-based philanthropy.

The Executive Director will:

    • Be responsible for the strategic, programmatic, and financial operations of the organization, ensuring accountability for effectiveness of programs and maintaining high standards for excellence while managing a dynamic organization of broad disciplinary scope.
    • Work closely with the Foundation’s Board of Directors and Committees, including a close partnership with the Board Chair, developing strategic priorities for the Foundation and ensuring the Foundation continues to serve as a platform that delivers across a diverse geographic and programmatic impact strategy.
    • Serve as a spokesperson and influencer, amplifying the effectiveness and visibility of the Foundation and its stature by connecting across the philanthropic, non-profit, business and government spheres.
    • Build upon the positive culture at the Foundation, taking an integrative approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion, while focusing on professional development within the organization.
    • Drive the Foundation’s internal operational efficiencies.
    • Further the Foundation’s commitment to trust-based philanthropy.
    • Steward the legacy of the founders and work to deepen the Foundation’s connection to the multi-generational Donnelley family.
    • Effectively contribute to the management of the endowment, working with the CFO and outside advisor to ensure that a mission lens is included in decision-making.
    • Recruit, develop, empower, and retain top-flight and diverse individuals, ensuring that the staff bring transformational leadership to the Foundation, the regions and the philanthropic eco-system.
    • Make certain all activities and programs meet the highest standards of ethics and align with the Foundation’s values.

The position is located in Chicago, Illinois, with frequent travel to the Lowcountry. The role succeeds David Farren who plans to step down as Executive Director after more than 10 years of deeply committed and impactful leadership.

The Profile

At this exciting time in its history, the Foundation seeks an experienced, respected, and humble leader with an enthusiastic commitment to sustain and build resilient, vital, engaged, and equitable communities in the Chicago region and the Lowcountry of South Carolina through grantmaking programs in Artistic Vitality, Land Conservation, and Collections. The ED will demonstrate capacity for leadership through vision, communication, inclusion, integrity, action, and results. The ED will be able to thoughtfully steward the legacy of the founders and deepen the Foundation’s connection to the multi-generational Donnelley family. The ED will have the capacity to serve as a convener of community externally, while also stewarding due attention to the Foundation’s core internal operations, infrastructure, and team wellbeing.

In terms of the performance, personal competencies, and experience required for the position, we would highlight the following:

Setting Strategy

    • The ability to work collaboratively with the Foundation’s Board and Team to build upon the vision for the organization and to strive forward with a focused strategy.
    • An entrepreneurial and creative approach to developing new, innovative ideas that will stretch the organization and push the boundaries of the philanthropic sector.

Community Engagement

    • Ability to effectively represent and promote the Foundation in the local communities it serves and the capacity to represent the Foundation’s work on the national stage.
    • Capacity to successfully navigate complex political and cultural environments.
    • Experience and authentic interest in building deep and lasting relationships within the diverse regions.

Relationships and Influence

    • Naturally connects and builds strong relationships, demonstrates strong emotional intelligence and communicates clearly and persuasively.
    • Ability to raise awareness and advance an understanding of the Foundation’s mission, work, and impact, inspiring trust in others through compelling influence and charisma.
    • Encourages others to share and/or own the spotlight; creates a sense of purpose/meaning for the team that generates followership beyond their own personality; engages others to the greater purpose of the organization.

Executing for Results

    • Ability to set clear and challenging goals, while committing the organization to improve performance; tenacious and accountable in driving results.
    • Delivers innovations and business models that create value for all constituents, continually challenging traditional approaches.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

    • Demonstrates personal and professional commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion; displaying cultural competence while operating in an environment with a wide range of constituents and communities.
    • Track record of translating an organization’s diversity and inclusion values and commitments into specific strategies and actions, including advancing and sustaining an organizational culture of diversity, inclusion, and equity.

Leading Teams

    • Ability to attract and recruit top talent, motivate the team, delegate effectively, celebrate diversity within the team, and manage performance; widely viewed as a strong developer of others.
    • Capacity to provide a clear sense of direction to the team as a strong internal communicator.
    • Self-reflective and aware of own limitations; leads by example and drives the organization’s performance with an attitude of continuous improvement by being open to feedback and self-improvement.

Commitment to Mission and Shared Values

    • A passion for and unwavering commitment to the Foundation’s legacy, core values and mission.
    • Unquestioned personal and professional integrity, humility, and honesty.


Russell Reynolds Associates, the global leadership advisory firm, has been exclusively engaged to lead this search. We welcome nominations and expressions of interest to the team via the contact information below.

Alison P. Ranney
Russell Reynolds Associates​
155 North Wacker Drive, Suite 4100​
Chicago, IL  60606​

Tory Clark
Russell Reynolds Associates​
990 Peachtree St NE, Suite 2700
Atlanta, GA 30309

Mathilde Andrews
Russell Reynolds Associates1700 New York Avenue, NW, Suite 400
Washington, DC  20006

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