Vice President, Talent and Leadership Development
Before joining the Foundation in 1994 and playing leadership roles in many of its key initiatives, Donna Stark was a Casey grantee managing a major systems change effort in Maryland. As director of the children and family services reform initiative of the Maryland Governor’s Office for Children, Youth and Families, she led one of the nation’s earliest and most ambitious efforts to forge collaboration among state agencies to better serve children and strengthen families.
“When I had the opportunity to join the Foundation as a staff member, the organization was seeking to better understand how states could restructure their financing and services to have a greater impact on children and families nationally,” she says.
Stark soon began supporting and integrating the Results-Based Accountability (RBA) framework into her state-level system reform work at Casey. “RBA is an incredible tool for collaboration because it mobilizes everyone to work together for a specific result,” Stark says. “Coalescing around and being willing to measure progress toward achieving results — and changing your strategies when they are not making a difference — is critical.”
Building a “culture of results” has been a guidepost in Stark’s work, from helping to plan and design Making Connections and building resident leadership in the initiative’s sites to directing the Foundation’s work to groom leaders in the social sector to achieve the best outcomes for children and families.
As vice president for Talent and Leadership Development, Stark, who holds a Ph.D. in counseling and human development from Ohio State University, blends skills cultivated throughout her social services career with an understanding of the needs of Casey staff and partners. She is driven by the belief “that people really do make the difference, that leadership is an important lever for change, and that it is important for the Foundation to be investing in leadership if it wants its ideas to take hold.”
Stark has expanded the Foundation’s leadership portfolio from its signature Children and Family Fellowship, which helps senior and mid-career professionals hone their leadership skills, to an array of programs that help staff, grantees and communities tackle some of the most challenging obstacles to success for vulnerable families. This work includes Casey’s Leadership in Action Program, which brings community players together to target specific results such as improving school readiness or reducing the percentage of low birth-weight babies.
Although she was well-schooled in public systems work, she says the Foundation’s community change efforts have helped her learn “a whole lot about organizing and power dynamics” among residents, officials, government and institutions.
“The Foundation is a place like only a few in the world — where staff can live their values and be supported in the interest of making the world a better place,” Stark says. “You work with people who believe that and we are able to make a difference. It’s such an amazing privilege.”