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Updated: February 6, 2023 Focus on Women in Leadership

Brilliant move: Jordan eyes seamless transition, new priorities as she ascends to top of Seven Hills

Photo | EDD COTE Kathleen Jordan (left) works with Tashiani Forman, Seven Hills learning and development specialist, at the nonprofit's administrative offices. Jordan will take over as president at Seven Hills in July when David Jordan retires from the role.

When Kathleen Jordan took a job as an undergraduate student in 1985 at her university’s advancement office, she could not have predicted it would be the beginning of a decades-long career in fundraising, eventually leading her to take over as the president at the Seven Hills Foundation. At the time, all she knew was that it came easily to her.

“I found I was really good at it,” she said. “I loved raising money.”

Since that time at West Virginia University, Jordan’s entire career has been with nonprofits, where her passion is. In July, after David Jordan steps down as president at Seven Hills, she will assume the top position as president and CEO at the largest human services nonprofit in Central Mass. As of fiscal 2021, Seven Hills had $263 million in assets and $303 million in revenue, according to the organization's tax filings. Jordan joined Seven Hills in 2003 and served as vice president of advancement from 2006 to 2010. In 2019, she was promoted to executive vice president and CEO, overseeing the operations of the organization’s 15 affiliates.

Jordan has used her fundraising expertise to develop and see Seven Hills projects to completion. “I love seeing a need, developing a strategy to meet that need, and figuring out, ‘How am I going to fund this?’” she said.

Increasingly, Jordan has become a face for the foundation, said Kate Myshrall, vice president of advancement, and former board member at Seven Hills. Her transition to this role as top leader is natural, Myshrall said, but also unique. When Kathleen Jordan takes over from David Jordan when he retires on June 30, she will be stepping into the role her husband has held for over 25 years, after he built a Seven Hills into what it is today.

“Placing her in this role is a brilliant move,” said Tim Garvin, president and CEO of the United Way of Central Mass. “She has always been a leader in the community, even before she was in this leadership role.” 

Garvin cited Jordan’s deep connections in the community and clear care for the work she does as throughlines of the more than 10-year relationship between their Worcester organizations.

Much about the way Seven Hills operates will remain the same, said Kathleen Jordan, but she has plans for how her leadership will differ from her husband’s. Among her priorities are an increased focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, streamlining data across systems, and enhancing the employee experience in an industry struggling to attract talented workers.

“I'm not coming in with radically different ideas, though I certainly have a slant to the way that I look at our work and have areas I will be emphasizing,” she said. “Still, it’s different to someone coming in externally and wiping the slate.”

From inside Seven Hills, this reduces anxiety about a transition from a longtime leader. “It gives our staff great confidence,” said Myshrall.

Jordan’s continual willingness to learn is one of her primary assets, Myshrall said. When Myshrall took over Jordan’s former role and Jordan moved into the CEO position with more clinical oversight, Jordan took a hands-on approach to learning the ins-and-outs of those jobs. She spent time working in group homes alongside nurses and clinicians, seeing their day-to-day.

The benefit to this went beyond just illustrating operations for Jordan, said Myshrall, who credited Jordan’s charisma and personality as a strength.

“People are drawn to [her],” said Myshrall. “When we get her out there, we can tell our story.”

For Jordan, having been in leadership roles alongside her husband has been overwhelmingly positive, and she hopes this will contribute to a seamless transition.

“We've approached these 19 years together as leaders in very similar ways,” said Jordan. “I want to continue to grow and evolve the way we have been doing.”

While Jordan is not planning on radical changes, she will prioritize work that has not always been at the forefront. Firstly, she said, is looking at new ways to inclusion for Black, indigenous, and people of color within the organization and among upper-level leadership.

“We’ve not been able to crack yet entry into those most senior positions for BIPOC staff,” said Jordan. “We want to be providing resources that will take people all the way to the C-suite positions.”

This chart lists the largest human services in the region by total assets and lists the top executive at each and their gender.

For human services organizations, diversity among staff and leadership is a complicated issue.

“It's really important for these organizations to have people who are representative of the populations they serve in leadership,” said Valerie Zolezz-Wyndham, founder and CEO of Promoting Good, an Upton-based DE&I consulting firm.

At mission-driven places, said Zolezzi-Wyndam, passion can lead to blindspots.

“You really need people in positions of leadership to bring perspectives that may be missing,” she said. “These positions need to be able to have the influence to help leaders see things they might be missing.”

Jordan said looking at how best to mentor staff from diverse backgrounds is at the top of the list of priorities.

This kind of work at any human services organization will become increasingly essential for their credibility, said Zolezzi-Wyndham. “It is hard for the public to see your stated commitment to DE&I when it's not visible within the organization,” she said.

Additional priorities for Jordan as she moves into the role as president are to improve the employee experience by adding flexibility. Seven Hills has been working on streamlining data from providers and affiliates.

“We are trying to remove all the noise,” said Jordan, “and make it easier to do this work.”

In tandem with these new focus areas is a continued commitment to a presence in the community, said Jordan. Seven Hills, with its more than 5,000 employees, is one of the largest organizations in Central Massachusetts, but for Jordan, making sure other service organizations know Seven Hills wants to be an ally is essential.

“We want to be part of this community, we want to be part of the solution, and we want agencies to feel like we are invested,” she said. “People will say, ‘They're so big, I don't know if they'll be interested in partnering with us.’ We are always interested.”

Jordan intends to stay in the role until she retires, something not yet on the horizon. She will build upon her decades of experience, her solid position in the community, and her commitment to looking forward when she officially assumes her new roles on July 1.

“She understands where we have been,” said Myshrall, “and she understands where health care is going.”

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