Interview with Donnelley Foundation’s Ellen Placey Wadey

Interview with Donnelley Foundation's <em>Ellen Placey Wadey</em> 1 Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation Arts & Collections Senior Program Officer, Ellen Placey Wadey discusses how the iconic foundation is helping arts organizations navigate through the devastating Covid-19 pandemic.

Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation Arts & Collections Senior Program Officer, Ellen Placey Wadey discusses how the iconic foundation is helping arts organizations navigate through the devastating Covid-19 pandemic.

Ellen joined the Foundation in 2013. 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. Before joining the Foundation, she was an independent fundraising coach, serving a number arts organizations including the Chicago Cultural Alliance and the Ragdale 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.

Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation Expedited Funding

Acknowledging the potentially cataclysmic financial situation which hundreds of beloved regional small arts organizations are facing, the Board of the Chicago-based Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation (the Foundation) has unanimously voted to immediately put in place a series of funding mechanisms, including expediting a total of $2 million in general operating funds to its current roster of 175 arts grantees in the Chicago region and 40 in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.  The nearly 70-year old Foundation currently supports these small arts nonprofits with an array of ongoing organizational development opportunities in addition to multi-year general operating grants (vs. program-specific). These gen op grants range from $2,500 to $13,500 annually, for Chicago organizations with budgets under $1 million, and $5,000 to $25,000 annually, for Lowcountry organizations.  Grantees will receive July 2020 payments by May 1, and November payments by June 1, and the typically requisite reporting requirements have been relaxed.

In addition to expediting individual grants to existing Foundation grantees, the Foundation has contributed $200,000 to the recently-announced Arts for Illinois Relief Fund providing unrestricted grants from $6,000 to $30,000 for groups to be administered by the Arts Work Fund; created an initial $100,000 Lowcountry Arts Emergency Fund to be administered by the Foundation; and seeded a $200,000 relief fund for small collecting organizations in both regions, providing public access to regionally-focused collections.  And looking ahead to grantees’ future financial needs, the Foundation will continue its ongoing Cash Reserve Challenge offering arts organizations in both regions the opportunity to receive up to $25,000 in matching funds to assist with maintaining a cash reserve.

“At this time, the most urgent need is in the arts and culture sector, uniquely affected among non-profits with venues closed and artists unable to supplement their creative work with their usual additional part-time work,” said David Farren, executive director of the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation.  “Based on our ongoing relationship with our grantees, it’s clear that the smallest of these organizations are especially hard hit, and there was no question that we would step up to get them the funds they need now, when they need it.”

About Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation & How it Serves

The Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation supports land conservation, artistic vitality, and regional collections for the people of the Chicago region and the Low country of South Carolina.  The Foundation serves these communities in the following ways:

  • Supplying multiyear general operating support for the majority of its grants.  Anecdotally, multiyear general operating support is the “gold standard” most valued by grantees.  It supports organizational stability, provides flexibility, and helps build further trust in relationships between funders and grantees
  • Providing value in addition to dollars. The Foundation’s strength is in the overall “value proposition” of its grants — the dollars, plus technical assistance support, sponsoring convenings, providing informal coaching, and paying for scholarships for conferences and other organizational development opportunities.
  • Establishing a number of touchpoints with grantees throughout the grant cycle. Every Foundation grantee, no matter the grant size, has contact with its program officer at least once a year, usually more often.  Beyond the money, they sponsor and attend cohort meetings, learning sessions, and informal gatherings with various grantee clusters.

For more information on the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, visit