When Sally Blount takes the reins Aug. 1 at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, she will come with a lengthy resume of work in the higher education sector, most recently serving as dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
“There are a lot of other differences, but I have experience leading a mission-driven non-profit,” said Blount, 58, who will be the first layperson to lead Catholic Charities. “How do we keep serving more and better? That’s what I know how to do. I help organizations figure out how to do more and better.”
The important commonality is that both organizations want their staff to be able to devote themselves to the mission rather than to improving a bottom line.
That’s challenging for an organization like Catholic Charities, which gets funding both from government contracts and private donors. Blount, who led successful capital campaigns both at Kellogg and in her previous position as dean of New York University’s Stern College of Business. She also oversaw major building projects at both schools.
Before going to NYU, Blount was on the faculty of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Princeton and a master’s degree and doctorate from Kellogg.
“Having the opportunities I have had as a woman to lead major business schools and sit on the boards of major companies, why wouldn’t I take everything I learned in academia and everything I learned in the corporate world and use it to help people?” Blount said.
Blount, the Michael L. Nemmers Professor of Strategy at Kellogg, will continue to teach part-time.
Blount sits on the boards of directors for Abbott Laboratories, Ulta Beauty, the Joyce Foundation and the Economic Club of Chicago, and serves on the advisory board for the Aspen Institute Business and Society Program. Since 2014, she has been a member of the Finance Council of the Archdiocese of Chicago, where she co-chairs the People and Talent Development Committee.
Cardinal Cupich lauded Blount for the work she has done for the church already in a statement announcing the appointment.
“I am pleased to accept the recommendation of the Catholic Charities search committee and appoint Sally Blount as the organization’s chief executive officer,” said Cardinal Cupich. “Sally has contributed much to the church through her service on the Archdiocesan Finance Council and her work in priest development. With her organizational and leadership expertise, profound faith and strong commitment to social justice, she is the ideal person to lead Catholic Charities at this exciting and challenging time.”
Blount said she decided to step down as dean of Kellogg on her annual retreat in 2017. On that retreat, while in prayer, she saw her “next self” in the periphery of her mind’s eye, and she began to feel unrest, she said.
“That’s one of the ways God speaks to us,” Blount said.
She left the position the following year, not looking for or fielding any job offers during that time. She then took a year-long sabbatical, including a 30-day Jesuit-directed silent retreat and volunteer work for the archdiocese.
It was only in the last month of that year that she began receiving offers of employment, but nothing felt right.
“You sit and you pray with God for 18 months, and headhunters are calling me with brand-name not-for-profits, they’re calling me with colleges and universities, and even some corporations,” Blount said. “I’m saying, ‘No, that’s not the one,’ and ‘No, that’s not the one.’ Finally the pitch comes in, and I said, ‘Oh, my golly.’ This one I read and called the search committee and said, ‘I want to learn more.’”
The search committee was just as delighted as Blount.
“We conducted a comprehensive nationwide search for a leader who combined a deep commitment to the Catholic faith with the expertise to re-envision Catholic Charities’ mission and impact for its next century of service to people and families in need,” said Dr. Janice R. Klich, chair of the Catholic Charities board of directors. “Our search committee found in Sally Blount a heart for the mission of Catholic Charities and the vision to help it thrive amid a growing need for its services and a challenging fundraising environment. We were pleased to unanimously recommend her to Cardinal Cupich.”
Blount said she is especially interested in collaborating with other organizations, including those inside the archdiocese such as Misericordia and Mercy Home for Boys and Girls. She also wants to make sure more people are aware of everything Catholic Charities does.
How to increase the reach and impact of Catholic Charities in the pandemic-impaired economy will also be a challenge, she said.
“We get a lot of money from government contracts and our governments right now are in tough places, especially with the pandemic,” Blount said. “Our donors are generous and ready to help, but I think the major gifts — the six-, seven-, eight-figure gifts — are going to slow down with all philanthropy for a while, until people see what’s going to happen to their portfolios.”
Blount intends to go on a listening tour to learn more about everything Catholic Charities does and how it does it, she said.
There is no doubt that the agency will have to find new ways to work, though.
“It will be new ways, because we’re going to be living in a new world following the pandemic, and Catholic Charities is going to have to pivot to meet it,” she said.
But, she added, Catholic Charities has done that over and over again during its century of existence in the archdiocese, from its birth during World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic, through the Great Depression, World War II, the dot-com boom and bust and the Great Recession.
Blount will succeed Monsignor Michael Boland, who stepped down last year after 30 years with the agency. She will work during the transition with acting CEO Kathy Donahue-Coia.
Students at Immaculate Conception-St. Joseph School came together Jan. 29 to pack “blessing bags” for Catholic Charities as part of their outreach to the community for Catholic Schools Week.
Chicago-area Catholics are hoping that unaccompanied immigrant children will feel the love that comes with the more than 1,300 stuffed animals collected by their parishes. “The message we are sending is to embrace these children,” said Lupe Partida of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, 3200 E. 91st St., “to give them the sense of having encountered Jesus, who said ‘Let the children come to me.’”
On weekdays over the summer, in 56 different places, a white truck pulls up in front of an apartment building or playlot and people start to line up as Catholic Charities workers start to set up tables.