Executive Director

David Farren

David assumed leadership of the foundation in January 2013. For 20 years prior he worked with the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), where he led major legislative, litigation, and agency policy initiatives involving land use, transportation, air quality, water resources, environmental justice, and natural area protection in six southeastern states. His work included collaborating with the Foundation and other partners on conservation strategies in coastal South Carolina. Throughout his career, he has served on several nonprofit boards and government advisory commissions, and he currently serves on the board of the Biodiversity Funders Group. Before joining SELC, David was a partner with Tharrington, Smith & Hargrove in Raleigh, North Carolina. A native Midwesterner, he began his career at Jenner & Block, a national litigation firm based in Chicago. David attended Amherst College and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Cultural Anthropology. He holds a law degree from the University of North Carolina. David is a painter and an outdoor enthusiast and enjoys visual and performing arts, sea kayaking, and wilderness camping. He has three daughters, all of whom are professionals in the arts.

Executive Assistant

Natalie Birk

Natalie serves as executive assistant to David and the board and manages Chicago office operations. Before joining the Foundation in 2021, she held leadership and management positions at many institutions including the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, the Chicago Botanic Garden, and the Old Sacramento Historic District in Sacramento, California. She has been a consultant to Hedwig Dances, the American Writers Museum, and the VanderCook College of Music, all in Chicago, as well as to many public interest organizations in California and Washington, D.C. With a Bachelor and Master’s degree in Political Science, she began her career in government, first as a U.S. Senate staffer and then with the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Women’s Business Ownership program. Chicago is her favorite city and she enjoys all it has to offer, from museums to restaurants.

Director, Grants and Communications

Susan Clark

Susan leads GDDF’s grants management, communications, equity and inclusion work, and IT. She has a keen interest in the intersection of technology, data, and communications to create stories that advance philanthropy and the nonprofit sector. She joined the foundation in 2005, after a variety of communications and technology-related positions at Chicago nonprofits. She was a 2020-21 member of the inaugural Center for Effective Philanthropy Learning Network and a 2017-18 Change Leaders in Philanthropy Fellow with Grantmakers for Effective Organizations. An active member and volunteer of PEAK Grantmaking, she served as co-chair of its Midwest Chapter from 2009 to 2012. She currently serves on the board of IAMAS: International Association of Maternal Action and Scholarship. A Chicago native, Susan earned a Bachelor of Arts in electronic media arts from DePaul University. Outside the office, she’s an award-winning photographer who has shown in venues across the country. She enjoys spending time outdoors, especially via kayak, and exploring the world with her school-age son.

Director, Lowcountry Program

Kerri Forrest

Kerri directs the arts, land conservation, and collections programs in the Lowcountry region. A Charleston native, Kerri returned to the Holy City in 2010 after a 16-year career covering politics with national broadcast outlets MSNBC, NBC NEWS, and CBS NEWS. For four years, she was the Director of Institutional Advancement with the American College of the Building Arts, the only institution of higher education in the U.S. offering a liberal arts degree in traditional building crafts. She joined the Foundation in February 2015. Kerri is heavily involved in the arts and civic communities and has served with many local and regional organizations including the Friends of the Lowcountry Lowline; TEDxCharleston; the South Carolina Arts Commission Leo Twigg Scholars. In addition, she has been an adjunct professor of professional communications and public speaking at the Art Institute of Charleston and of fundraising at the College of Charleston. She is currently a board member of the YWCA Greater Charleston and a member of the One Region Executive Committee. Kerri graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Biological Sciences from Clemson University in 1994, a Masters of Arts in Interactive Journalism from American University in 2001, became a DLI Riley Fellow in 2013, and is a member of the Liberty Fellowship Class of 2018.

Lowcountry Program Associate

Ame Holcombe

Ame handles GDDF’s Lowcountry arts portfolio, working with current and potential grantees to help support their work in the region through grants and technical assistance. She also provides support across all program areas and manages Lowcountry office operations plus the biannual Lowcountry Land Conservation Symposium. Ame joined the Foundation in 2017, after working in the nonprofit sector for more than a decade. She previously served as Grants Manager and Development Director for the South Carolina Children’s Theatre, Executive Director for the Foothills Trail Conference, and Membership Coordinator for the Lowcountry Land Trust. Originally from South Carolina, Ame lived in Connecticut and Georgia, before returning to SC to earn a Political Science degree from the College of Charleston. She currently serves as Program Chair for PEAK Grantmaking’s Southeast Chapter and serves on the Advisory Group for the South Carolina Arts Commissions’ Art of Community – Rural SC. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her family, their two dogs, and living in the South Carolina Lowcountry.

Program Officer, Conservation

Rebecca Judd

Rebecca leads the Chicago region land conservation program and co-manages the Lowcountry conservation program. She joined the Foundation in 2019 from the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club, where she led statewide advocacy work to advance clean energy policies. Previously, she served as Senior Legislative Counsel for Earthjustice in Washington, D.C., overseeing federal legislative and administrative efforts on public lands, national forests, and climate adaptation among other issues. A native Midwesterner, Rebecca hails from Indiana, where she attended Purdue University, studying management and biology. She later attended Tulane University Law School, where she graduated with honors and received a certificate in environmental law. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with family and friends and walking her dogs along the shore of Lake Michigan.

Chicago Program Associate

Clover Morell

Clover assists in managing GDDF’s Chicago arts portfolio and grants management overall. Before joining the Foundation in 2013, she supported local artists in a variety of roles including personal assistant, events/production coordinator, curator, and non-profit administrator. In addition, she provided educational publishers with freelance photo research and editing services for many years. She has exhibited solo and group performance pieces at venues in Chicago and abroad and worked on collaborative pieces with several local artists. She was a facilitator for The Field Chicago, an artist’s feedback group, for 15 years. Clover grew up in upstate New York and spent summers in the Oregon mountains – two places with fantastic trees. She holds a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Arts from Columbia College Chicago and a Master of Fine Arts in Performance from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She recently earned a certificate in Arts & Culture Strategy from The University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice. Outside of work, Clover enjoys spending time with her friends and family, making art, bicycling, cooking, taking classes, and being outdoors.

Director, Finance and Administration

Baronica Roberson

Baronica brings extensive experience in financial management and operations to GDDF. Before joining GDDF in 2021, Baronica served for seven years as Deputy Commissioner/Chief Financial and Operating Officer for Chicago Public Library (CPL), where she oversaw budgeting and staffing, as well as stewarding of its endowment. In 2015, she was selected as a part of the inaugural class of the Civic Leadership Academy of the University of Chicago. Baronica serves as Chairman of the board of the African American Legacy Fund of the Chicago Community Trust. She also serves on the boards of Bright Promises Foundation, Chicago Dancemakers Forum, Monarch Awards Foundation, and the Chicago Chapter Charities Foundation, and she is an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and Links, Inc. An alumna of Spelman College, University of Illinois at Chicago, and University of Chicago, Baronica holds degrees and certificates in African American Studies and Public Policy and Administration with a concentration in nonprofit management, accounting, and finance. Chicago raised, Baronica loves, and frequently visits, the natural and cultural resources of Chicago—the lakefront; the parks; and the many museums and art galleries. Outside of work Baronica enjoys reading and family research and genealogy. She and her husband John have three children.

Program Director, Chicago Artistic Vitality and Collections

Ellen Placey Wadey

Ellen leads the Chicago Artistic Vitality and Collections programs. Before joining the Foundation in 2013, she was an independent fundraising coach, serving many arts organizations including the Chicago Cultural Alliance and Ragdale Foundation. She was executive director of the Guild Complex – a literary arts organization – for seven years and in that time built the Guild’s impressive artistic accomplishments on a firm foundation of organizational development. Before that, Ellen was the director of marketing and development for the Marwen Foundation. She has reviewed arts proposals on behalf of Prince Charitable Trust and served as a jurist or panelist for the likes of the Illinois Arts Council and the Third Coast Festival New Audio Competition. An accomplished writer, Ellen has two advanced degrees in fiction writing, is the recipient of the Scott Turow Fiction Prize, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.



Laura Donnelley

Laura is chair of the Foundation board. She has pursued her lifelong passion for innovative contemporary art in a variety of ways. She founded Art Matters, Incorporated, a nonprofit organization that funds artists taking risks outside the boundaries of the commercial arts culture. She also founded the Good Works Foundation supporting arts, education, and climate resiliency primarily in Southern California. Laura chairs the board of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (ICALA), and she sits on the board of Sarah Lawrence College. She is the daughter of Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley.


Brian Bannon

Brian is The New York Public Library’s inaugural Merryl and James Tisch Director. He is the chief librarian responsible for directing NYPL’s 88 neighborhood branches, as well as the Library’s educational strategy. Prior to that, he was commissioner and chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Library. Before his tenure in Chicago, Brian was Chief Information Officer at the San Francisco Public Library and worked at the Seattle Public Library and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He has been recognized as an innovator throughout his career: amongst many other accolades, he has been named to Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People in Business” list and was named one of Chicago’s top 100 innovators by Blue Sky Innovation, a publication of the Chicago Tribune. Brian received his B.A. from Pacific Lutheran University and his Master’s in library and information science from the University of Washington Information School.


Betsy Chaffin

Betsy is the Founder and the past Executive Director of the Spring Island Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and protection of the environment and cultural history of Spring Island, SC. She is also the co-founder of the Low Country Institute created to provide responsible leadership in the conservation and use of Lowcountry natural resources. Ms. Chaffin is a past trustee of the South Carolina Nature Conservancy, the University of North Carolina Institute for the Environment, and the Aspen Foundation, and is a Life Trustee of the Anderson Ranch Arts Center. She received a B.S. in History and Education from the University of North Carolina. An artist, she lives with her husband in Spring Island, SC, and Snowmass Village, CO.


Inanna Donnelley

Inanna is currently a seventh-grade math teacher and advisor at the Dalton School in New York, where she and both of her sons were students from Kindergarten through 12th grade. She coaches the seventh-grade Math Team and is an Equity Group facilitator, a position she has held for the past two years. Inanna has served as the Middle School Math Department Chair for grades 4-8 while at Dalton. Inanna has a B.A. in English Literature from Yale College and an M.S.T. in Education from the University of Chicago. She has taught at the University of Chicago Laboratory School, the Latin School of Chicago, and the Brearley School in New York City. She returned to serve on the Foundation board in 2016, having previously served from 2004 to 2007. She is a granddaughter of Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley.


Shawn M. Donnelley

Shawn is President of Strategic Giving, a philanthropy consulting firm. She is a Guild Fellow of Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge and on the boards of the Art Institute of Chicago, Northwestern Memorial Foundation, American Associates of the National Theatre, Cambridge in America, and is past Chairman and Life Trustee of Goodman Theatre.  Her honors include Oprah Winfrey’s Angel Network Award, Outstanding Individual Philanthropist, Treasure Coast Association of Fundraising Professionals, and Crain’s Chicago Business “Forty under Forty.” A member of the Economic Club of Chicago and The Commercial Club of Chicago, she previously served 10 years on the boards of United States Artists, Chicago Community Trust, and Loyola University New Orleans.  The former head of political affairs for R.R. Donnelley, she received a B.A. from Loyola University New Orleans and an M.A. from Emerson College. She is a granddaughter of Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley.


Denise Barnett Gardner

Denise is a retired marketing executive and former president of Insights & Opportunities, a research-based marketing and strategic planning firm. She is also the co-founder of Namaste Laboratories and former VP, Marketing at Soft Sheen Products Company. Denise is Chair-Elect of the Board of Trustees at the Art Institute of Chicago and serves on the Board of Governors of The School of The Art Institute of Chicago. She has served on the Executive Committee of The Chicago Community Trust, the Board of Visitors of Northwestern University’s Weinberg College, Chicago Humanities Festival, and The Chicago Public Library Board. Denise and her husband, Gary, have invested significantly in improving college access in Chicago and have a long-time commitment to supporting critical educational needs at the high school level. Because of their commitment to collecting and promoting art by African American artists, they received the Citizens Advocate award from Arts Alliance Illinois and have been featured in the New York Times. Denise began her professional career at Leo Burnett Company after graduating from Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. She also holds a B.S.J. from Northwestern University in Advertising and Social Psychology.


Laura Gates

Laura is a retired executive with ties to Chicago and the South Carolina Lowcountry. After a 14-year career in the Chicago office of McKinsey & Company, Laura joined the Field Museum where she served as Vice President for Museum Affairs. She served on the boards of directors of the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, The Wetlands Initiative, and Chicago Wilderness Magazine. In Charleston, Laura is an active participant in civic life. She currently serves on the boards and executive committees of The Southern Environmental Law Center and the Preservation Society of Charleston. She chaired the boards of the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League and the Gibbes Museum of Art and served on the board of the Historic Charleston Foundation and as a member of the Tourism Commission. Further afield, she is a board member of the National Archives Foundation. Laura is actively engaged with her alma mater, Wellesley College, where she is a trustee and served as Chair of the Board of Trustees from 2011 to 2018. In addition, she has served as a Director and President of the Wellesley College Alumnae Association and Chair of the Business Leadership Council. Laura received an AB from Wellesley College and an MBA from Harvard University. She lives in Charleston and on Wadmalaw Island.


Wendi Huff

Wendi Huff is the Vice President of Programs & Clinical Care at the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America. She oversees comprehensive disease education, advocacy, public policy, and research programs to improve health outcomes for myasthenic patients. Her diverse healthcare experience has focused on rare disease and health equity. She has held executive leadership positions including Chief Advancement Officer and Senior Director of Industry Affairs at the National Brain Tumor Society Foundation, Vice President at the Morehouse School of Medicine, and Chief Executive Officer of a YWCA chapter. Wendi is a former professional ballet artist, choreographer, and dance educator. Her advocacy and civic work include supporting the arts, youth education, climate action, and women’s rights. She currently serves on the boards of New Morning Foundation and the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. Wendi and her husband live in the South Carolina Lowcountry.


Rick Lowe

Rick Lowe is a Houston-based artist who has exhibited and worked with communities nationally and internationally. His work has appeared in Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston; Museum of Contemporary Arts, Los Angeles; Neuberger Museum, Purchase, New York; Phoenix Art Museum; Kwangju Biennale, Kwangju, Korea; the Kumamoto State Museum, Kumamoto, Japan; the Venice Architecture Biennale; and Documenta 14, Kassel, Germany and Athens, Greece. He is best known for his Project Row Houses community-based art project that he started in Houston in 1993. Additional community projects include the Watts House Project, Los Angeles, CA; the Borough Project, Charleston, SC (with Suzanne Lacy and Mary Jane Jacobs); the Delray Beach Cultural Loop, Florida; Small Business/Big Change, Anyang, Korea; Trans.lation: Vickery Meadow, Dallas, TX; and Victoria Square Project, Athens, Greece. Among Rick’s honors are the Rudy Bruner Awards in Urban Excellence, the AIA Keystone Award, the Heinz Award in the arts and humanities, the Skowhegan Governor’s Award, the Skandalaris Award for Art/Architecture, and a U.S. Artists Booth Fellowship. He has served as a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University, a Mel King Fellow at MIT, an Auburn University Breedan Scholar, and a Stanford University Haas Center Distinguished Visitor. President Barack Obama appointed Rick to the National Council on the Arts in 2013; in 2014 he was named a MacArthur Fellow; and in 2016 he joined the University of Houston as a professor of art. Currently, he is working in Tulsa, OK on the Greenwood Art Project and in Chicago, IL on the Black Wall Street Journey.


Dan Ray

Dan Ray is a senior executive with over 36 years of finance, energy, and leadership experience. Most recently, he served as chairman of the board for the South Carolina state public power authority, Santee Cooper, after being nominated to this board by former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley in 2014. Dan has served as Managing Director and Global Head of Project Finance for Jefferies, Capmark Finance, and GMAC Commercial Mortgage during his 23-year investment banking career. Additionally, Dan is been on the national board of Ducks Unlimited and Wetlands American Trust since 2005 where he continues to advocate for conservation, land protection, and clean water related issues. Dan resides in the Georgetown area of the Lowcountry where he enjoys the outdoors, including fishing, hunting, and spending time with family.


Mark Templeton

Mark N. Templeton is Clinical Professor of Law, Director of the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School, and a Research Affiliate of the Energy Policy Institute at Chicago. Previously, Templeton was a Trustee and Executive Director of the Office of Independent Trustees for the $20 billion Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Trust. He previously served as the cabinet-level Director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Associate Dean and COO at Yale Law School, and at McKinsey & Company, where he worked on sustainability issues. Prior to that, he worked on human rights issues at the State Department and as an adviser to the US Delegation to the UN Commission on Human Rights. Early in his career, he was a financial analyst at Goldman Sachs. Mark has an AB from Harvard College and a JD from Yale Law School.


Alaka Wali

Alaka Wali is curator of North American Anthropology in the Science and Education Division of The Field Museum and Adjunct Professor at Northwestern University. She was the founding director of the Center for Cultural Understanding and Change from 1995- 2010 and co-founder of the Chicago Cultural Alliance. She currently curates the sizeable North American collection which includes a contemporary urban collection. She also works closely with colleagues in the Science Action Center to implement community based environmental conservation efforts in both Chicago and the Amazon regions of Peru. Her current research focuses on the relationship between art and the capacity for social resilience. Alaka received her B.A. from Harvard University and her Ph.D. in Anthropology from Columbia University in New York. She lives with her husband in Evanston, IL and has two children.


Trenholm Walker

Trenholm Walker is an attorney who handles trial and appellate litigation with the firm of Walker Gressette Freeman & Linton, LLC in Charleston. His broad trial practice includes land use and environmental matters, as well as conservation easements. He is a fellow in the American College of Trial Attorneys as well as the American Board of Trial Advocates. He has been recognized by his peers in SuperLawyers® as one of the ten best attorneys in South Carolina. He has served on the board of local conservation and preservation organizations. He and his wife, Susan, live in downtown Charleston, escaping when they can to their rural retreat on the marsh on nearby Wadmalaw Island.


Mimi Wheeler

Mimi Wheeler is first and foremost a mother of two living in Venice, California. She is passionate about food and food justice, social justice, environmental action, and the arts. Mimi serves as a board member of Art Matters, supporting artists through individual grants. She is also a board member of the Good Works Foundation, which supports the arts, the environment, social action, and education in Los Angeles. Mimi is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College where is she studied English literature and fine art. She is a granddaughter of Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley.