Nick Donohue Announces Plans to Step Down as President & CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation

Will support search for new leader after more than a decade of leadership

QUINCY, MA — February 5, 2021 — The Nellie Mae Education Foundation today announced that Nick Donohue will be stepping down as the organization’s President and CEO at the end of 2021 after 14 years of leadership at the organization. During his time at the Foundation, Nick was responsible for shepherding in student-centered approaches to learning as a national education reform strategy and shifting the organization to its current grantmaking strategy focused on advancing racial equity in public education.

Nick has worked throughout his career to expand access to high quality, innovative learning opportunities for students. His leadership in education reform has challenged traditional notions of schooling to respond to our changing world and the systemic inequities inherent in our systems of education, with the goal of preparing learners to contribute to a thriving democracy. Nick’s leadership helped build a community of districts committed to rethinking how they supported students based on individual need, incorporating student voice into the learning process, expanding opportunities for learning outside of the classroom, and tailoring learning to each young person.

Donohue will continue to serve in an active role as the Foundation’s leader through the end of the calendar year, while the Board of Directors — chaired by Greg Gunn — begins a search in the coming weeks for Donohue’s successor.

“The past 14 years at Nellie Mae have been tremendously rewarding for me, both personally and professionally. It has been the honor of my career to work at a Foundation so fiercely committed to rethinking what public education looks like to meet the needs of all learners, especially through the lens of racial equity,” said Donohue. “I look forward to leading the organization during this important transition and through the end of the year. Living into the values we have come to embrace as an organization — and that guide my own actions so much today — means it is time for me to help the Foundation find a new leader whose experience and expertise will support the organization’s new work even more fully moving forward.”

“During his time at Nellie Mae, Nick has led the organization through growth and challenges, always seeking to deepen the positive impact the organization made on young people in the region,” said Nellie Mae Education Foundation Board Chair Greg Gunn. “Several years ago, we embarked on a journey to lean into the racial equity barriers in our field. While Nick is the first to say his journey is ongoing, it was his leadership — and his commitment to Board and staff working together — which in turn helped us be more responsive to communities during the challenges of this past year. We wouldn’t be on this path today without Nick’s values-driven, reflective leadership. I look forward to his support in our search for his successor, a process that is grounded in our racial equity principles, inclusive of the voices of staff, grantees, and community partners.”

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Nick Donohue with Nellie Mae staff and community advisors in 2019

The transition comes at a time when the Foundation has entered the second year of implementation of its grantmaking strategy focused on advancing racial equity in public education, supporting efforts to advance excellent, student-centered public education for all New England youth. In addition, just last year, Donohue led an effort to distribute an additional $20M in grantmaking towards combatting COVID-19 and anti-Black racism in the New England region and nationally, acknowledging that needs exacerbated by the dual pandemics have an impact on youth educational experiences and outcomes, especially in communities of color.

“I am proud of what Nellie Mae has contributed in the New England region — and nationally — to ensure that all young people have access to an excellent and equitable public education. I am proud of our commitment to do our part in the work of dismantling structural racism, and am grateful to those who have helped me learn and ‘unlearn’ so much. I am thankful for the relationships I have built over my tenure here with Board, staff, grantees, and external partners and am heartened by the good work that will continue beyond my time here,” said Donohue.

Prior to joining the Foundation, Nick served as the New Hampshire State Commissioner of Education where he led systemic reform efforts to innovative teaching and learning. Additionally, he oversaw the implementation of the Rhode Island Commissioner of Education’s order to reconstitute Hope High School in Providence. During his time at Nellie Mae, Nick has also served in a number of leadership roles, including as Chair of the Board of Directors of the Aurora Institute (formerly iNACOL), and previous board affiliations including serving as Vice-Chair of the board of Grantmakers for Education, and serving as a trustee for both the University System of New Hampshire and Community Technical College System.

Nick and his family are looking forward to the next chapter of his life both professionally and personally.

*Read Nick’s letter announcing his plans to step down here


Nick Donohue Announces Plans to Step Down as President & CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation Welcomes Betty Francisco to Board of Directors, and Jessica…

We are pleased to welcome Betty Francisco to our Board of Directors

Today we are pleased to announce the appointments of Betty Francisco to our Board of Directors, and Jessica Jones and Juliette Menga as advisory members of the Board’s Investment Committee. Together, these three powerful community and business leaders will bring tremendous expertise and guidance to the Nellie Mae Education Foundation as we launch our new organizational strategy to advance racial equity in public education.

“We are delighted to welcome these three talented leaders as part of this exciting new chapter for our organization,” said Nick Donohue, President & CEO of Nellie Mae. “Their perspectives and insights will be incredibly valuable as we reshape our grantmaking through a race equity lens to ensure that all students across New England have access to an excellent public education.”

Betty Francisco is an entrepreneur, community leader, business executive and attorney. She is known as a powerful convener and collaborator, passionate about creating visibility for the growing Latinx business and civic community in Massachusetts. In 2018, Boston Magazine named her one of the 100 most Influential People in Boston. She was also honored by GetKonnected as part of the GK100: Greater Boston’s Most Influential People of Color list.

Betty is the co-founder of Latina Circle, a Boston-based network that is advancing Latina leaders into positions of power and influence across industries. She was also instrumental in launching Latina Circle’s Amplify Latinx initiative to increase Latinx civic engagement and political representation. Currently, Betty is the General Counsel at Compass Working Capital, where she serves as chief legal advisor. She has over 17 years of experience advising health clubs, life sciences, and technology companies in the areas of legal, compliance, risk management, operations, and human resources. Previously, Betty served as the CEO and Founder of FitNation Ventures, a business and legal consulting practice focused on advising health and fitness companies.

Betty obtained her JD and MBA from Northeastern University, and her BA in History from Bard College. She is fluent in Spanish and resides in Boston with her husband and two daughters. “It is so exciting to join the Foundation at a pivotal time as it implements its racial equity strategy,” she says. “I am looking forward to advancing the mission and elevating the voices of youth, families and grassroots leaders who are best positioned to shape innovative solutions for improving public education.”

We are pleased to welcome Jessica Jones as an Investment Advisor to our Board

Jessica Jones is Managing Director for Hedge Funds at Dartmouth College’s Investment Office. Before joining DCIO in 2018, she worked for almost a decade at HighVista Strategies, where she was a principal focusing on the firm’s external manager portfolio across public and private strategies. Previously, she held positions at Grove Street and Battery Ventures.

Jessica graduated summa cum laude with an AB degree from Princeton University in 2001. She is chair of the Princeton admissions office alumni schools committee for the western suburbs of Boston. Jessica co-founded and currently runs NextGen LPs, an industry networking association. She is also on the investment committee for the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center. “I am thrilled to be joining an organization that I know is truly committed to advancing racial equity in public education,” she says.

We are pleased to welcome Juliette Menga as an Investment Advisor to our Board

Juliette Menga, CFA is a Director and Associate Portfolio Manager at Alternative Investment Group, an independent investment firm based in Southport, CT. She has responsibility for manager sourcing and monitoring for all funds at the firm, and works closely with its head of investment strategy to define its strategic investment direction. Juliette is a member of the firm’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and Sustainable Investing Committee, and has been with the firm since April 2007. Prior to joining Alternative Investment Group, Juliette was an Analyst at New York Live Investment Management. She has also worked as a Research Analyst for Excalibur Advisors LLC, a hedge fund advisory firm.

Juliette holds a dual BS, cum laude, from Kennesaw State University in Mathematics and Computer Science, and a MS in Financial Mathematics from Florida State University. She is also a Chartered Financial Analyst. “I look forward to partnering with the Nellie Mae team to think strategically about how we can best align the organization’s investments with its focus on equity,” says Juliette.

“As part of our new strategy, we are working to ensure all aspects of our organizational culture and practice promote equity — not only in our grantmaking, but also in how we invest our endowment in ways aligned with our values,” said Greg Gunn, Board Chair of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. “Betty, Jessica and Juliette will be instrumental in helping us achieve that goal.”

Learning and Improving at Nellie Mae

Learning and improving comes naturally to us as humans. Healthy babies learning to walk get up after each tumble as they figure out how to steady themselves and move ahead. Our job in Nellie Mae’s Learning and Evaluation initiative is to lean into our inclinations to learn as individuals, and encourage learning to improve as a communal endeavor.

To that end, the Foundation has developed a framework for learning and evaluation. We’re seeking to become clearer and more intentional about what we want our grantmaking to accomplish and what we learn along the way about ourselves. We’re increasingly capturing the thinking behind our values and efforts, the specifics of what we are doing and what we’re figuring out. We owe this to the students in the region, and what we know from a range of reports, including the recent 50-year update of the Kerner Commission Report that finds equity of access and outcomes is not making the strides needed for all students to experience progress and success in school. It’s taking way too long.

Through our grantmaking, we are seeking to be more intentional, track and evaluate how we are doing, unpack the reasons for our progress and missteps, and apply our learning to our next efforts. We believe this will help us do better work internally, as well as with our grantees and partners who with us, work to increase college and career readiness, particularly for traditionally marginalized students and communities. Our grantees are critical partners in helping us reflect on how we are supporting them to do such important work. As we analyze our progress internally, we employ three levels of analysis:

· Monitoring: Across grant funds, we monitor progress through program officers engaging with grantees, grantee reports, and ongoing contact with intermediaries. These are regular components of grantmaking practices.

· Evaluation of Impact: Some grant funds are examined through project evaluations, synthesis of grantee reports, and evaluations of clusters of grants or overall strategy. A set of Principles of Evaluation guide our evaluation practices.

· Learning and Reflection About our Strategy: At this level, we examine the external environment and related data sources, systems change frameworks, and some broader evaluations that can inform our overall strategy or related clusters of investments.

These three levels named in the framework are essential, and data collection isn’t enough. We give meaning to our data collection through:

Practices that Build a Learning Organization: We know our efforts can only improve when we regularly track and measure progress, stop to reflect, and then do better (see Marilyn Darling’s piece on “emergent learning”). The Learning and Evaluation team, with colleagues within and beyond the foundation, is working to make learning an organizational priority — something that’s embedded in everything we do. We are developing practices and tools to support our analysis, reflection, learning, and continuous improvement of programs and broader strategy. Over time, we want to learn increasingly alongside grantees and partners.

Communications About Findings and Learning: As findings emerge, we are poising ourselves to support communicating about lessons learned, progress, and challenges both within NMEF and grantees, as well as audiences we seek to reach strategically. We are looking at how to share progress and lessons with different stakeholders and audiences, so that lessons we learn together can be applied broadly. We want to be more transparent and communicate more — this new blog series is a case in point.

Together, these practices poise us to be more thoughtful and reflective as a Foundation as one organization among many working on similar issues that advance college and career readiness. The findings of an equity assessment and a current strategy review process are helping us consider what it means for us to be rededicated to equity and more explicit about race, and we’re examining our organizational strategy through an equity lens. We’re eager to increasingly engage in applying learning to our work with you on behalf of New England youth. And we want to be ready for the next generation of young people as they learn to walk towards fruitful college and career experiences.

In this new Learning and Evaluation series, we will shed light on how different program officers see what we’re accomplishing, what we’re learning, and what insights inform future work.

Because we believe that data is power to learn and do better, NMEF is evaluating and tracking progress more than ever before.