Nicole Suydam's Story
I felt a call on my life to help others from a young age. It’s because of my own life experiences that I was drawn to this work.
My parents separated when I was 4 years old and divorced shortly after when I was 5. And then my father unexpectedly passed away when I was 7—in a tragic car accident. When he passed, I was really worried. I didn’t know what to expect because even though they were divorced, I knew he financially supported us. Plus, my mom had very little education or work experience and her job up until that point had been to take care of me.
But, even when she struggled to make ends meet, we always seemed to have what we needed between her working entry level jobs, managing her resources well, and having the support of my Grandmother to take care of me while my mom worked.
My mom would always say, “I want better for you. I don’t want you to struggle like I’ve struggled. I want you go to college and have better opportunities.” She was very determined that I would go to college. And she talked about it constantly. I also had wonderful mentors and youth pastors who encouraged and gave me the confidence to do well in school and make college a reality.
At first, I thought I would go to law school or work in politics—a path I envisioned would lead me toward helping others. But, the true direction for my career became clear during my senior year at Vanguard University. I was taking a communications class and my group was assigned a project to create a communication plan for a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization. That opened up a world for me and I could see the start of a career path serving others through nonprofits.
I’ve since dedicated the last 26 years of my career to the nonprofit sector, using my creativity and leadership to positively impact the lives of others. I’ve also had the honor to work at two of my favorite nonprofit organizations—not once, but twice! My nonprofit career started at Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County where I served as a development manager overseeing fundraising and public relations for five years. My friend and mentor Dan Rogers, the President & CEO of Goodwill of Orange County in the early 2000s, recruited me to become director of development for Goodwill where I served for nearly 10 years and grew tremendously as a leader and executive.
I determined that my ultimate goal was to become a CEO of a nonprofit organization, but I knew it would take the right opportunity with the right organization at the right time. That opportunity presented itself in 2012 and I had the honor to return to Second Harvest, this time as their CEO. And just when I thought I was settled into my long-term home, I was offered the opportunity to return back to Goodwill of Orange County to serve as the organization’s first woman CEO. That was nearly five years ago now.
I’m excited to be back at Goodwill of Orange County to help shape a strong culture of kindness and innovation as we prepare to celebrate our centennial anniversary in 2024. In partnership with our Board of Directors and Senior Leadership Team, we just completed a new strategic plan to help us usher in our next 100 years of service.
After a year-long, collaborative planning process, we’ve outlined a Strategic Plan that redefines Goodwill and how we serve our great community. We have a bold goal and long-term vision to double our impact and footprint in Orange County over the next ten years. We’ve outlined four key focus areas and six strategic initiatives to help us get there. The plan is big and bold, but the entire Goodwill team and a host of partners, nonprofit peers and community and business leaders are excited, inspired and motivated to join hands to make it happen.