ITHACA, N.Y.—Dorothy Donnelly, The Ithaca Voice’s new Executive Director, says that the City of Ithaca has occupied a special place in the back of her mind since the days she spent studying and earning her degree at Ithaca College.

She said she loved the city when she was in school, but didn’t fully appreciate it until years later.

“When The Ithaca Voice opportunity came up on my radar, I got really excited,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh, wow! This could be awesome.’ I felt like there was an opportunity to have a full circle moment.”

She was living in Los Angeles at the time, where she’d settled in early 2020 to ride out the pandemic with family. The pandemic, despite its uncertainty and stress, was also a time for soul searching for Donnelly like it was for many others. “I realized that I wanted to be part of a community where I could make an impact. So that meant moving. You know, you can’t make an impact as somebody who just came into LA out of nowhere.”

With her two dogs McGee and Elvis in tow, Donnelly’s return to Ithaca comes after making Boston, San Francisco, and Denver her stomping grounds as she developed a career that would see her work in, and eventually run, marketing departments for global public accounting firms, like Arthur Andersen, Deloitte, and Grant Thornton.

Donnelly said she inherited her business acumen from her father, who she describes as a “serial entrepreneur.” Her parents were both from Syracuse, she was born in New Jersey, and when she was five years-old, her family moved to Ireland and began opening up a little chain of retail and discount drug stores akin to small-scale CVS or Walgreens. But the Donnellys would move back to the U.S. in the 1970s, landing in Pittsburgh, PA. Then it was a car dealership that became the family business, and later a career management consulting firm.

“As kids, these workplaces became our playgrounds,” said Donnelly.

After becoming the first woman in her family to earn a college degree, Donnelly set out to make her mark, and she feels like she did what she set out to do in the corporate world. But there was a missing nutrient. “I had achieved a lot of what I wanted to achieve career-wise […] but I wasn’t necessarily happy.”

In Denver, Donnelly began serving on the board of various nonprofits, including the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) that connects entrepreneurs with funding, and other organizations focused on social services like The Delores Project — an emergency shelter for homeless women and transgender people. Her work on these boards and others, and the involvement in the community that came with them, affirmed for Donnelly that, somehow, she wanted to spend the rest of her career in the nonprofit world. 

“I really just love the community development that comes along with nonprofit work.” 

Those next steps would come in the form of starting her own company, DenMark, that would end up taking on administrative, marketing, and managerial responsibilities for nonprofits in the Denver area that struggled with building or maintaining that capacity in their organizations. Using the skills she developed at larger firms to grow companies was how Donnelly decided she could make the biggest impact. She helped fuel the growth of Denver’s ACG chapter over a seven year period, and later joined American Water Works Association to help increase their revenues and awareness.

And those skills are what Donnelly highlights as she steps into her role at The Ithaca Voice. More and more independent nonprofit newsrooms are springing up across the country to fill the void left as traditional news outlets have contracted. Donnelly is aiming to grow the organization through a community-centered, business-minded approach, and keep this small nonprofit on its upward trajectory. 

“To have unbiased, ethical, straight up journalism for the community, and to be able to get information locally from sources they trust, I just think is a huge value and a great equalizer.”