James Donahue, Old Sturbridge Village/Coggeshall Farm Museum CEO and president

A LIFELINE: James Donahue in 2019 led a partnership between Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Mass., to acquire Bristol-based nonprofit Coggeshall Farm Museum to help revitalize the struggling Rhode Island-based organization. / PBN PHOTO/ELIZABETH GRAHAM
A LIFELINE: James Donahue in 2019 led a partnership between Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Mass., to acquire Bristol-based nonprofit Coggeshall Farm Museum to help revitalize the struggling Rhode Island-based organization. / PBN PHOTO/ELIZABETH GRAHAM

Leaders & Achievers 2022
JAMES DONAHUE
CEO and president, Old Sturbridge Village/Coggeshall Farm Museum


JAMES DONAHUE BELIEVES that in order to be a truly effective leader, one must have a great board and staff. He says he has been very lucky to have both.

“Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what I needed to get done,” Donahue said.

For 15 years, Donahue has guided the team at Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Mass. – New England’s largest living history museum – through ever-changing and challenging times. In 2019, he led the effort to create a strategic partnership between Sturbridge and Coggeshall Farm Museum in Bristol. It was an opportunity to expand the reach of Sturbridge’s mission while providing a strong foundation for the smaller, struggling nonprofit in Rhode Island.

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Through the affiliation, Donahue’s staff absorbed the farm’s back-end functions, such as accounting, fundraising, marketing and human resources, consolidating services and reducing costs.

“It’s so important that experiences [such as] Coggeshall and Sturbridge exist to present history in a way that makes it as relevant as it can today,” Donahue said.

Both museums are thriving, despite having weathered economic challenges before the COVID-19 pandemic, and when the crisis hit.

“I was determined to get us through [the pandemic],” he said. “I had three goals: keep everyone safe, preserve everyone’s job and the work of the museum, and keep people whole in terms of their income and health insurance.”

Donahue put his plan in place, and his staff, board and members all responded by being nimble, flexible and, most importantly, loyal.

‘I was determined to get us through [the COVID-19 pandemic].’

“COVID-19 tested our ability to be creative. We were able to keep our people safe and employed, while making sure the museum survived,” Donahue said.

Donahue’s vision for Coggeshall is big and there has already been a long list of improvements. New visitors come to Coggeshall via their Old Sturbridge Village membership, bringing economic benefits to Bristol.

School field trips are also returning, as are engaging programs and events, such as a lecture series. A fundraising gala is planned for the fall, and in 2023 the farm will celebrate its 50th anniversary.

“It feels good to see these institutions thrive, but I couldn’t do it if I wasn’t surrounded by people who are good leaders themselves,” Donahue said.

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