RRF Foundation for Aging Announces Leadership Transition | Financial Buzz

RRF Foundation for Aging Announces Leadership Transition

CHICAGO, Feb. 20, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The Trustees of RRF Foundation for Aging (formerly The Retirement Research Foundation) have announced the decision of its long-time president, Irene Frye, to retire at the end of May. Mary O’Donnell, vice president, will succeed Frye.

RRF also announced a new, sharpened focus on four priority areas related to improving the lives of all of us as we age—caregiving, economic security in later life, housing, and social and intergenerational connectedness. Both Frye and O’Donnell partnered with the Trustees to set this new strategic orientation.

“Irene’s strength, vision, creativity, and passion have moved RRF forward in very important and lasting ways,” said Ruth Ann Watkins, chair of the Board of Trustees. “The foundation is today in an excellent position to advance the field of aging.” She went on to state that the Board of Trustees undertook a thoughtful, six-month process that led to the decision to have O’Donnell succeed Frye. “We are thrilled that Mary will bring her dynamism and commitment to advance our new strategic direction.” 

Frye joined the foundation in late 2008, as the economic downturn slashed the endowments of RRF and other foundations around the country. She successfully led RRF through this challenging period, forged a tight-knit team, and sustained the foundation’s commitment to older adults.

“I have been deeply grateful for the amazing opportunity to work with such a talented staff, dedicated Board of Trustees, and effective group of grantees who, literally, make the world a better place for older people,” says Frye. “Though it was certainly difficult joining the foundation during the height of the Great Recession, we weathered that storm, remained true to our mission, and supported transformational work.”

A Record of Innovative, Integrated Grantmaking
In addition to stewarding the foundation through demanding times, Frye has encouraged RRF to approach its grantmaking more proactively and to support integrated policy, practice, and systems innovations that improve the lives of older people. Notably, she led the foundation in 2011 as it awarded a $1.2 million grant to the National Council on Aging to launch EconomicCheckUp, a free online resource that has helped thousands of older people manage their budget, save money, find work, and set financial goals. This marked a significant step in the foundation’s grantmaking, and the tool continues to improve the economic security of older Americans in communities around the country.

Frye also led the foundation as it advanced a special initiative to promote wider replication of POLST—Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment. POLST helps ensure that first responders and hospitals adhere to an older person’s health care wishes. POLST policies, critical to ensuring that older adults’ advance care wishes are honored, are now in development or in place in 46 states, in large part due to the support and advocacy of RRF.

A New President, A New Name, A New Strategic Direction
Mary O’Donnell will become the foundation’s third president. Mary joined RRF in 2009, previously serving as a program officer, senior program officer, and vice president. O’Donnell has contributed to all of RRF’s grantmaking program areas, with a particular focus on organizational capacity building. 

Most recently, O’Donnell, in collaboration with Frye, led the organization in a strategic planning process and associated rebranding effort that resulted in its new name—RRF Foundation for Aging—which pays tribute to the history of the foundation and signals a bold new direction for its future. Building on its long-standing commitment to aging and its mission to improve the quality of life for older adults, RRF Foundation for Aging has now focused its grantmaking on powerful solutions to four of the most fundamental challenges facing older people today: caregiving, economic security in later life, housing, and social and intergenerational connectedness. These inter-related issues are essential to our ability to age in community for as long as possible.

“I am both excited and humbled by the opportunity to follow Irene as president,” says O’Donnell. “I am honored to take on this role and look forward to working with our excellent staff and Board of Trustees to advance the foundation’s mission. Through the dynamic work of our grantees, RRF Foundation for Aging has a wealth of knowledge that can positively impact the policies, practices, and systems that define the experience of aging.  I look forward to sharing this knowledge with community leaders, policymakers, and other funders around the country.”

Nationally, O’Donnell has served on the Board of Directors of Grantmakers In Aging and was selected by Grantmakers In Health as an Emerging Leader in Health Philanthropy. Locally, she has been active within Forefront (Illinois’ regional association of grantmakers) and a variety of collaborative efforts within Chicago’s nonprofit sector.  O’Donnell received her master’s degree from the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, with concentrations in geriatric social work and nonprofit management. 

About RRF Foundation for Aging
During the last 42 years, RRF Foundation for Aging, formerly The Retirement Research Foundation, has awarded nearly 5,000 grants worth almost $250 million—all dedicated to improving the quality of life for all of us as we age. RRF’s grantmaking focuses on four priority areas—caregiving, economic security in later life, housing, and social and intergenerational connectedness. These issues are fundamental to allowing all of us to age where we want to and how we want to. RRF was one of the first private foundations to focus exclusively on aging issues, and continues to support a range of advocacy, direct service, research, training, and organizational capacity building efforts, both in the Chicago area and nationally. Learn more at www.rrf.org.

John Beilenson, SCP

Two photos accompanying this announcement are available at: 



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