The Rockefeller Family Fund mourns the passing of Donald K. Ross, who served as director of RFF from 1985 to 1999. Donald was RFF’s second director, and was the first public interest advocate hired to run a national foundation. As RFF’s director, his enthusiasm for advocacy and accountability led him to transform RFF from a private foundation to a public charity, enabling the organization to support and conduct more innovative advocacy work.
During his time with RFF, he also helped to found a number of new organizations that filled important roles across a range of fields, including Taxpayers for Common Sense, the Environmental Grantmakers Association, the Alaska Wilderness League, Trust for America’s Health, among many others.
Prior to serving as RFF’s director, Donald founded, along with Ralph Nader, the Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG) network and was the first executive director of NYPIRG. In his early years with NYPIRG, he innovated a range of corporate and government accountability programs, and enabled greater transparency and citizen participation within a state legislature that had operated in the shadows.
After RFF, Donald developed and ran a program with the MacArthur Foundation to reform juvenile justice laws in a number of states, including in states with particularly regressive laws.
Remarking on Donald’s lifetime of accomplishments, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said: “Donald Ross created dynamic and lasting organizations that have inspired and trained untold legions of young people to be engaged, sophisticated and powerful actors in a democracy that desperately needed that energy to take on increasingly powerful special interests. Donald brought the same creativity and impact to the world of philanthropy, where he pioneered new approaches to funding to advance justice and protect the planet.”
Donald had an immeasurable impact on the modern era of the public interest movement. His innovative approach to advocacy and philanthropy has left an indelible mark on our field and the nation.