National Organizer for Public Achievement
Dennis Donovan is the national organizer for Public Achievement and an experienced educator. Since 1997, Donovan has worked with school, university, professional and community groups across the country and in Macedonia, Northern Ireland, Poland, South Africa, and Turkey, as a speaker, trainer, and consultant.
Before joining the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, Donovan spent 24 years in K-12 education, including 16 years as school principal. He learned organizing in the 1990s after attending training at the Gamaliel Foundation in Chicago, and went on to co-found the largest sustained church-based organizing effort in Minnesota. In response to student need, he created and teaches a practicum course on organizing at the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.
Donovan’s engaging style, real-world experience, and technical expertise make him sought after as a speaker and trainer.
Dennis Donovan is the national organizer for Public Achievement, which is a theory-based practice of citizen organizing to do public work for the common good. Since 1997, Donovan has worked with school, university, and community groups across the country and abroad as a speaker, trainer, and coach. In Minnesota, he is currently working with legislative staff and graduate and undergraduate students, and is lead organizer of the Warrior to Citizen Campaign.
Before joining the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, Donovan worked in K-12 education for 24 years, including 16 years as principal of Saint Bernard’s School in Saint Paul. In the 1990s, Saint Bernard’s served as a demonstration site for Public Achievement, and under Donovan’s leadership the school won the archdiocesan Social Justice Award for work done to improve Saint Paul’s North End community. Donovan was also recognized for outstanding educational leadership when he received the 1995 Principals Award from the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis and when he was named one of “98 to Watch in ’98” by the Saint Paul Pioneer Press, along with U.S. Senator Norm Coleman.
Donovan began his work as an organizer after attending training at the Gamaliel Foundation in Chicago. He helped found and served as education chair (1990 to 1997) of the Saint Paul Ecumenical Alliance of Congregations (SPEAC), which has since grown into a statewide organization known as ISAIAH. ISAIAH is committed to building power for a worldview rooted in racial and economic justice and is one of the most active partners in the national Gamaliel organizing network.
In 2000, Donovan was invited to participate in a Salzburg Seminar on Youth and Civic Engagement: Models for Engagement. The Salzburg Seminar is a program that convenes innovative thinkers from different cultures and institutions to identify critical international problems and generate creative and practical solutions to address them. In 2003, Donovan was invited back as a speaker for a Salzburg Seminar on Engaging Youth in Community Development.
In 2006, Donovan was invited by the Educational Society for Malopolska (MTO) in Poland to lead Public Achievement training for educators and school administrators from the Balkans. Later that year, he served as a facilitator at a Public Achievement conference organized by the MTO in Macedonia; the conference was sponsored in part by the National Endowment for Democracy and was attended by more than 200 educators and young people using Public Achievement in the Balkans, Turkey and Poland.
In 2008, Donovan was honored with the University of Minnesota’s Outstanding Community Service Award for making “substantial, enduring contributions to the community and to improving public life and the well-being of society.”
Donovan earned a master’s degree in educational administration from the University of St. Thomas and a bachelor’s of science degree in elementary education from the University of Minnesota.
Areas of Expertise
Theory and practice of democracy; civic engagement; citizen politics; culture change in K-12 settings; strategies for public engagement of K-12 and university students; and democracy building in international settings.