Academy of Hope’s Joy Bentley Phillips Drives Meaningful Change Through Adult Education

This dynamic young executive has built an unparalleled fundraising program from the ground up 

Trying to keep our families and friends safe and healthy while balancing our personal and professional lives—in 2020, this became an almost impossible task for many. Despite these obstacles, though, Joy Bentley Phillips, Chief Advancement Officer at the Academy of Hope (AoH)—one of D.C.’s premier adult education charter high school—was able to help her team and her adult learners thrive. 

“Our 35th-anniversary gala—which was scheduled for April—had to be postponed the day invitations hit the mailboxes,” Joy says.  “We had already exceeded our fundraising goal of $350,000. It was monumental for us because prior to this we had only grossed about $30,000 for our past events. So losing that event was really hard. Despite the gala postponement, we were still able to exceed our organizational fundraising goal by approximately 10% thanks to the outpouring of support from our AoH community.”

Founded in 1985, Academy of Hope is a nonprofit, adult charter school. The school’s mission is to assist adults in Washington D.C. as they pursue both their high school diploma and high-demand career training—learners can work towards both simultaneously. Other learners come to AoH with their diplomas already, with an eye on career training and job placement. The school also offers assistance programs for those looking to transition into college and higher education.

Free to all DC residents 18 years or older, AoH provides services to over 700 adult learners per year. The average learner is 41 years old and most have been out of the education system for decades. 

Joy joined AoH in 2017 as Chief Development Officer. Prior she had been in leadership roles at the American Cancer Society, Johns Hopkins University and George Washington University where she earned a master’s degree in public administration. Today, as Chief Advancement Officer, she is responsible for overseeing AoH’s Advancement Department, which includes the fundraising, strategic communications, advocacy, learner recruitment, and volunteer program teams. 

“After I got my master’s, I was very intentional about transitioning into an organization that had a very focused mission to help Black, brown and other underrepresented communities gain access to opportunities that would really help with their economic mobility,” she says. “For me, this is a dream job. It really connected to my passions.”

Supported almost exclusively through philanthropy until AOH’s charter school transition, in 2014, the fundraising arm of AoH has grown significantly under Joy’s leadership.  

“Washington, DC, leads the country in adult education and workforce development,” she notes. “There are 10 adult charter schools in DC, which is very unique. We’re one of the few places in the country that makes such a significant investment in adult education and workforce development.  We understand the direct correlation it has on improving families, communities, and our economy. I’m really proud to be a part of this community.”

Despite the challenges that 2020 has presented, Joy maintains a fiercely positive attitude. And encourages others to do the same.

“Challenge yourself to find solutions to problems, rather than just acknowledging problems. Think outside the box for those solutions, and work across disciplines and industries to find those solutions. And also bring authenticity to all you do while remaining committed to your values.”