James George Donald was born at Tauherenikau, Wairarapa, on 4 June 1898 and his brother Quentin Donald was born at Featherston on 13 March 1900. They were the sons of Quentin Donald, a farmer, and his wife, Alice Ford. Jim Donald attended Wellington College, where he played in the First XV in 1915. On leaving school he returned to the Wairarapa family farm and joined the Gladstone Football Club (he eventually played for six south Wairarapa clubs). In 1917 he made his début in first-class rugby when he played for Wairarapa against Wellington at Carterton as a wing-forward or rover, a position he occupied throughout his long career (it was abandoned in 1932 with the advent of the three-fronted scrum). At six feet one inch and 13 stone 7 pounds, Jim Donald was a rangy player whose build was ideal for a wing-forward.
In 1920 he represented the North Island and was chosen to tour New South Wales with the New Zealand team. He appeared in five of the seven games, including the three against New South Wales. Following an impressive display in the inter-island game in 1921, he retained his place in the All Blacks and played in the first two tests against the touring South Africans. In 1922 he went on another tour to New South Wales after appearing for New Zealand against Wairarapa in a pre-tour match.
Jim Donald was a surprise omission from the 1923 series against the touring New South Wales team and from the 1924 All Blacks’ British tour. However, in 1925 a New Zealand team, for which members of the 1924 side were ineligible, visited New South Wales and he was honoured with the captaincy. This tour marked the end of his career as an All Black, but he continued to play first-class rugby until 1930. He played 22 games for New Zealand, scoring six tries and kicking a conversion. He appeared in 104 first-class matches, including 73 for Wairarapa, and played in two inter-island games, three New Zealand trial matches and four games for combined Wairarapa–Bush teams.
Jim Donald was a well-known sheep and cattle breeder: he bred Romney sheep and was chairman of the national Ayrshire cattle-breeders’ association. He also bred racehorses and was president of the Wairarapa Racing Club from 1964 to 1967. He was a director of the Greytown–Wairarapa Co-operative Dairy Company for 30 years and chairman for 14.
In Sydney on 16 July 1929 Jim Donald married Dorothy Irene Hamilton. After her death in 1969 he married Inez Lola Rennie (née Austin) in Wellington on 4 August 1977. He died at Greytown on 29 August 1981, survived by his wife and a son of his first marriage.
His brother Quentin also went to Wellington College, where he played in the First XV in 1917. In his first year out of school he played five games for Wairarapa, making his début against Hawke's Bay at Napier. He represented his union for eight seasons, playing for various south Wairarapa clubs.
Standing 5 feet 10 inches and weighing 12 stone 6 pounds, Quentin had the typical build of a hooker in the two-fronted scrum of the time. He played in the inter-island match of 1919 and first appeared for the All Blacks in 1923 in the second game against New South Wales at Christchurch. After playing three trial games and representing the North Island in 1924, he was selected for the New Zealand team to tour Britain and France. One of the outstanding forwards of the 1924 All Blacks, he played 22 matches on tour, including the four internationals. He retired from all rugby on his return to New Zealand. His absence from the field lasted until 1927, when he again represented Wairarapa.
That year both Quentin and Jim were in the Wairarapa team that ended Hawke's Bay's four-year hold on the Ranfurly Shield. With Jim as captain, Wairarapa successfully repelled one challenge before facing Hawke's Bay in a shield rematch. The game, played before a boisterous crowd of 10,000 at Solway Park, Masterton, was halted twice because of pitch invasions. The referee, seeking to re-establish control over the match, over-reacted when Quentin Donald went through a ruck on to the Hawke's Bay side and ran into Maurice Brownlie. Although neither man threw a punch, the referee sent both from the field. When Hawke's Bay, who had played the better rugby, regained the shield, the Wairarapa union protested to the New Zealand union, claiming that one of the Hawke’s Bay players had not satisfied the residential qualifications. The rugby union found in Wairarapa's favour and the result of the game was overturned. Wairarapa did not retain the shield, however, losing it to Manawhenua in August.
Quentin Donald continued to represent Wairarapa until 1928. He played 23 games for New Zealand and scored six tries. He appeared in 78 first-class games between 1918 and 1928 and was a Wairarapa selector in 1935.
On 16 December 1925, in Wellington, he married Hazel Winifred Meikle Davies. His best man was Rawi Cundy, a 1929 All Black who was a Wairarapa team-mate of the Donald brothers on many occasions. Quentin Donald served on the Featherston County Council from 1938 to 1965. He was also vice president of the Wairarapa and East Coast Pastoral and Agricultural Society from 1946 to 1949 and president in 1950 and 1951. He died at Greytown on 27 December 1965. His wife had predeceased him in 1964; there were no surviving children.