Blake Jordan, Highland Street Foundation

TITLE:  Executive Director

FOCUS AREAS: Education, housing, mentorship, healthcare, environment, and the arts

CONTACT:  (617) 969-8900, bjordan@highlandstreet.org

PROFILE: The Highland Street Foundation hired Blake Jordan to be its executive director in December 2008. The following information was provided about his background upon hiring:

Previously, Jordan served as senior vice president and director of corporate giving at Citizens Financial Group. He also was managing director of the Citizens Charitable Foundation, including the Citizens Bank Foundation and Charter One Foundation. Jordan had corporate-wide responsibility for the strategic design and direction of the company’s philanthropy program. He oversaw charitable grants, sponsorships and corporate outreach efforts throughout the bank’s 13-state footprint and was the chief spokesperson on charitable giving. 

Prior to joining Citizens in June 2000, Jordan was development manager at Partners Healthcare System, a health care network comprised of local hospitals including Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. While at Partners, he oversaw a system-wide development program for capital, programmatic, and endowment needs. He also served as director of development for the Boston Public Library Foundation and ran the first organized fundraising program for this country’s first free public library. 

Jordan is an overseer of Dimock Community Health CenterMass Mentoring Partnership, and Community Servings. He was recognized as one of “40 under 40” in 2005 by the Boston Business Journal. 

Jordan is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst where he received his bachelor of science degree. 

An excellent executive profile and interview with Jordan from June 2015 can be found on the Boston Business Journal:

You might imagine the chief of a family foundation that donates millions of dollars a year to have a certain loftiness about him, but Blake Jordan has no such airs.

Call Jordan, and he picks up the phone. Pitch him an idea for funding, and if he can’t put money toward the project he’ll likely help track down another solution.

Jordan has made being approachable and accessible his signature on the Highland Street Foundation, which he has taken from the shadows of Boston’s philanthropy scene since he joined the organization in 2008 as executive director.

Highland Street Foundation was established in 1989 by David McGrath Jr., founder of recruiting giant TAD Resources International Inc. McGrath died in 1995, and his wife, JoAnn McGrath, and her five children comprise the Highland Street Foundation board. In the last 26 years, Highland Street has made $165 million in charitable contributions. In 2014 alone, the foundation donated more than $14 million, Jordan said.

“We operate more like a community foundation than a family foundation,” Jordan said.

Where Jordan’s approach differs from most is his focus on dreaming up and funding Highland Street’s own programs and initiatives, rather than simply doling out funds to existing programs.

Take Free Fun Fridays, for example, the summertime event that Jordan launched in 2009 that funds museums and cultural sites throughout Massachusetts to open their doors for free during warm weather months. This year, 70 cultural institutions will be open to the public through the Free Fun Fridays program, and Jordan projects a total of 200,000 visitors.

In its first year, Free Fun Fridays included 10 venues and drew 60,000 people.

“He’s searching for the places and approaches that no one else is taking or others aren’t finding popular and looking for innovative ways to support things,” said David Shapiro, president and CEO of MENTOR – The National Mentoring Partnership.

When the McGraths hired Jordan, he said, they were ready for something new.

“They wanted someone to do more programming. They were ready to do a lot more. And it was a perfect fit for me because I didn’t want to just send out checks,” said Jordan, who came from humble beginnings in Western Massachusetts. His fortunes have changed since those days: He was compensated around $320,000 in pay and benefits in 2013, the foundation’s last reporting year.

When he graduated from college, he had no strong network in Boston. Through a bit of luck, he landed his first nonprofit job at the Boston Public Library Foundation. He had sent a letter to Karyn Wilson, the founding executive director of the library foundation, asking her to hire him — but got no response. Months later, after he’d moved to Boston, Jordan discovered by chance that his roommate’s girlfriend knew Wilson.

As a favor, she hand-delivered Jordan’s resume to Wilson, who remembered his name from reading his original letter.

Jordan later led corporate giving for Citizens Financial Group, as well as the bank’s foundation. Before that, he worked in development at Partners HealthCare System.

Today, Jordan is well known in Boston’s philanthropy circles and Highland Street’s profile is high. Yet Jordan continues to operate with the humility of someone who is still breaking in.

“If someone wants to meet, we do. If someone calls, we take the call. If Highland Street can’t support an organization, we try to figure out what we can do,” he said. “Whatever role we can play we’re really happy to do it. If we have to say no, it’s no. But it’s also, ‘Here’s an opportunity we might be able to work with you on.’”

You can read another interview with Jordan about the foundation’s Free Fun Fridays initiative on Boston.com.