Three Roots Spotlight: Donna Gambrell

Donna Gambrell

Three Roots Capital (3Roots) is honored to have Donna Gambrell, President and CEO of Appalachian Community Capital (ACC), as a member of its Advisory Board. With four decades of government and public service, Gambrell’s expertise is an asset to 3Roots and its clients.

“If you had asked me when I graduated from college if I would be going into the community and economic development field, I would have said absolutely not,” said Gambrell. “Life never happens in a straight line. Careers don’t happen in a straight line, either.”

After she completed her bachelor’s degree in communications and journalism, Gambrell’s father encouraged her to get a federal government job to pay off student loans. Eventually, she began working for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), leading to a 16-year career culminating with her role as the Deputy Director of Compliance and Consumer Protection.

“In consumer protection, I worked with folks who may not have known they were signing their lives away or being scammed. They often just needed more financial education. I found the consumer protection work fascinating,” said Gambrell. “When you’re poor or low income, you don’t always get the kind of services and products that others who are in a stronger financial position receive.”

After Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast Region in 2005, Gambrell and other FDIC officials visited the hardest-hit areas. There, she was struck by the devastation facing low-income communities and people of color. She saw how community development financial institutions (CDFIs) were on the ground, directly helping those most impacted by the storm and economic fallout.

In 2007, she became Director of the CDFI Fund at the U.S. Department of Treasury. She was the agency’s longest-serving director and the first African American woman appointed to the role. During her tenure, the CDFI Fund experienced significant growth.

“It was the best decision I ever made,” said Gambrell. “I got to see CDFIs in all their glory across the country. It was inspiring to see their work and know that they were using funding from the CDFI Fund to build capacity and create real impact in the communities they served.”

In 2013, Gambrell left government service and went into private consulting. After a few years, she began working with Appalachian Community Capital and became the organization’s second CEO in 2017.

“There is a strong entrepreneurial spirit in the Appalachian region,” said Gambrell. “There’s also great beauty, tremendous resilience and a strong community spirit. Those things attracted me and have kept me engaged in the region, wanting to know more.”

Several years ago, Gambrell met Grady Vanderhoofven, 3Roots’ President and CEO, through Ray Moncrief, a 3Roots Board Member and former Chairman of the Board of Directors for ACC, among other roles. She joined 3Roots’ Advisory Board a couple of years ago.

“In her advisory position, Donna offers unique, strategic insight gleaned from decades of experience in banking, community and economic development, consumer protection, grants management and community relations,” said Vanderhoofven. “It has been an honor to work with her at 3Roots and to witness her work with vital investment initiatives like Opportunity Appalachia, an ACC project.”

Gambrell has enjoyed supporting 3Roots and watching the firm grow during her tenure. She loves seeing its impact on the communities it serves.

“Anyone who has the time to devote to being on an advisory board should do so,” said Gambrell. “You get to see and hear about fantastic projects underway, like 3Roots’ latest New Markets Tax Credits deals. Their coverage, products and services — it’s tremendous.”

Gambrell refers to NMTCs as the “jewel in the crown” for CDFIs because of their impact.

Gambrell noted that “NMTCs are public-private partnerships that invest in some of the country’s most devastated areas — in many cases, the most poverty-stricken and the ones that need the most infrastructure investment. In addition, the projects often create quality jobs. I love seeing the impact. That’s the best part about what I do.”