Donchev is a graduate of Veliko Turnovo University, with degrees in philosophy and journalism. Briefly taught social sciences at a Veliko Turnovo highschool before joining the non-governmental sector and in 2001 became the head of a technology sector business incubator in Gabrovo. In 2004, he became a programme director at Open Society Institute in Sofia, responsible for management of projects applying for EU funding. In November 2007, he was elected mayor of Gabrovo. He was appointed to the Cabinet in March 2010 and given a blank check, but also the difficult task of improving Bulgaria's utilisation of EU funds.