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  • Writer's pictureAlison Finstad

Notable Nonprofit Leader of the Month: Jordynn Barnhart-Sullivan

Updated: Jan 18, 2023

Meet Jordynn Barnhart-Sullivan!

Jordynn is one ambitious lady, playing critical leadership roles at two nonprofits: COM-GAP and Volunteers of America. She has a delightful personality and is a force for good. Read on for the exclusive interview!

Tell me about your nonprofit work

“I’m part of two nonprofits actually. I’m the Founder and Executive Director of COM-GAP which was created to address the many gaps in the communication field in terms of education, opportunity, and inclusion. I started this organization to help people grow and develop their communication skills – so we work with high schoolers to seniors, and everyone in between.

“Our most popular services are our REACH programs, where participants can learn about social media, blogging, digital marketing and other areas of communication. I want to ensure that anyone can gain experience in this field, even without having a college degree, because unfortunately not everyone has the opportunity to spend 4 years in school to meet that job requirement. They can gain that real world experience through COM-GAP’s programs and then through community partnerships we can help them transition into a job in the workplace.

“We also have a program called ‘Best Food Forward’ that offers free professional headshots and resume assistance. The best part is membership in COM-GAP is free! At the company’s inception, we originally created a business model that would charge membership fees. But then I was like – if we REALLY want to make these services affordable and accessible to ALL … then it really needs to be accessible to all. No red tape. No scholarships. Free for everyone and anyone interested in learning more. That is why we do not charge for memberships.

“I’m also the Director of Communications and Special Events at Volunteers of America. We operate more than 34 programs – homeless shelters, permanent supportive housing, reentry for prisoners, housing for veterans and vulnerable seniors, and so much more! The VOA is a cause that’s close to my heart because there are many ideas that people have in their mind about poverty and homelessness, but oftentimes they are far from reality. It is an extremely complex issue and the reason why I love VOA is because our services aren’t just putting a band-aid over the issue – instead we focus on long-term solutions that actually address the root of the problem.”

What is the biggest fundraising challenge your nonprofit (or any nonprofit you have worked at) has faced, and how did you deal with it?

“As I mentioned earlier, COM-GAP was initially created as a typical membership association where our revenue source would come from annual fees. Since switching to a completely different business model, our biggest challenge has been finding other sources of income to make this sustainable. We are a new organization so we are trying our best to explore which options will work best for us.

“Volunteers of America is sort of the opposite, in that it’s a well-established organization with a long history of success. I think this organization thrives because of its leadership, teamwork, and culture of philanthropy. When people who work in a nonprofit are excited about what they do every day, they tell others about it, which sparks a fire and encourages people to give.”

What are you most proud of professionally? How about personally?

“Professionally, the first thing that comes to mind is within one year from my official hiring date at VOA, I helped secure nearly 40 different earned media opportunities through television, print and radio – which was a 200% increase from the previous year. Then during my second year, we ended up getting a huge story placed in the local newspaper and an extremely generous person saw the article and reached out to us to make a major gift of $125,000. I love storytelling and being able to see the impact from those skills is exciting to me.

“Personally, I am most proud of the fact that I saw an area of need in our community and took immediate action to make a positive change. That’s how I ended up founding COM-GAP. Through every stage in my career journey, I noticed there were multiple areas where we could make improvements. So, I decided I was going to start a movement, because even if only one life is changed then that action was worth taking. And already we have been seeing many lives changed by COM-GAP! I think a lot of times (and my past self is guilty of this as well) we see problem areas in our community and just complain about how terrible it is, and how things won’t get any better. But if we don’t take action, then nothing will ever change.”

What is something most people don’t know about you?

“This is a tough question because I definitely overshare – within 5 minutes of meeting me you’ll probably know my ENTIRE life story! I would say the question people always wonder, though, but never ask unless I bring it up, is what my ethnicity is. When I answer they will usually say ‘OOH! That makes sense, I was always wondering but didn’t want to be rude.’ Totally not rude at all, please go ahead and ask! Basically, I am a mix of Vietnamese, Italian and Native American.”

What advice do you have for other nonprofit leaders who may be facing fundraising challenges?

“I would say most of the challenges nonprofits face can be fixed by implementing systems and processes to navigate those issues. It’s sad to say, but I know several nonprofits that are only one major issue away from closing their doors – like someone in leadership leaving or an unpredictable change in revenue. This has been very clear as a lot of nonprofits have been struggling due to the pandemic, and it shows the need for organizations to be proactive and put systems in place.

“I am always thinking about what could go wrong (my crisis communications background), so I am a big advocate for creating contingency plans in any and every situation. ‘By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.’ Don’t set yourselves up for failure.”

If you would like to invest in the success of COM-GAP or Volunteers of America, please reach out to Jordynn Barnhart-Sullivan.

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