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Connecting Leadership and Service with City Year

Sally Dornaus is a Managing Director, Chief Financial Officer and Risk and Oversight Committee member for Bain Capital Credit. Sally serves on the boards of City Year Boston and The TRIAD Trust, an organization focused on reducing the incidence of AIDS-related deaths. She’s also actively involved in supporting the National Multiple Sclerosis Society; the Center for Family Representation, which aims to strengthen families and children who have been involved with welfare or family court systems; and Surfer’s Healing, an organization that seeks to enhance the lives of children with autism.

Our partners at City Year recently interviewed Sally to hear her thoughts on leadership, board service and how service-focused nonprofits can change the world, one student at a time. Here’s their conversation:

What makes an effective leader? And what does being a leader mean to you?

I think the best leaders are secure in themselves and know how to mobilize and inspire others. But first, you need to have a clear goal or mission or vision you are working toward. Then, the right team of people will want to join and work hard to support that end goal. But it starts with a leader having strong conviction and vision.

I’ve also learned through my job that decision-making is a huge part of being a leader. Decisiveness can be hard, but you need to do it. Even if you’re wrong sometimes. People want decisiveness, and that makes sense to me. Very few people can be successful without the ability to make calculated decisions.

What inspires you to be as involved in nonprofit work as you are? Why do you think it is important for business leaders to be involved in nonprofit work?

I like to think I’m idealistic, but being around City Year AmeriCorps members and staff, I sometimes think I’ve defined that term incorrectly, because I’ve received so much through my involvement. Being involved and learning more makes me feel good and informed. It’s a nice way to get out of my normal routine; it offers self-reflection. It’s eye-opening. It’s made me realize that the people who give their time and resources to organizations like City Year are among those who receive the most. We think we are helping others, but we learn we are also helping ourselves, and learning so much about the community we live in.

What do you do and what does your day look like?

Bain Capital Credit manages $30 billion and, as the CFO, I have responsibility to keep track and report on that. It’s an analytical job, and I lead a team of really great people. My days are dynamic, sometimes filled with meetings and sometimes sleeves rolled up trying to solve various issues.

Why is Bain Capital’s involvement in City Year important to communities, to schools and to students?

Bain Capital has created a company of people who care about the communities in which they live and work and who are encouraged to contribute in various ways. It’s a firm mentality, part of our DNA, and it’s remarkable. At Bain Capital, we work in a world where everyone constantly interacts, and everyone is a giver and receiver. We all have a sense that helping someone else helps us all become stronger. I think that understanding of connection and mutual benefit has translated into so many of us becoming involved in the nonprofit world.

What is your favorite part of being a City Year Boston Board Member?

I got involved about nine years ago. It struck me as an easy organization to understand and support, as it’s hard to argue against the importance of education. First, I went to some Bain Capital-sponsored service days, then I attended and organized a few breakfasts. When I was approached about joining the board by Sandra Lopez Burke, the executive director of City Year Boston, I remember thinking they seemed a bit worried about how to ask me. I was like, “How does anyone say no?” I was honored.

Being on the board is an honor. It offers an interesting perspective and is really well organized, especially by Chair Dianne Ledingham, who runs the board “like nobody’s business.” Seriously – she’s amazing. It lets me see the inside of the organization and think deeply about ways we can support corps members. I like to be a part of the discussion. And I get to go to City Year events, like report card conferencing, which always inspire me. I always leave feeling like we really interacted with the AmeriCorps members and together, we are really helping students. There is so much joy in this work, and as a board member, I’ve gotten to experience more of that joy. When I see evidence of joy in what the corps members are doing for students, I know I had a part in that. That is such a gift.

Why do you think Bain Capital employees want to support City Year?

Most of us can’t imagine the situations faced by the students served by City Year. We understand that City Year AmeriCorps members are trying to help kids who need one person, one caring and trained adult, to give them just a little bit of encouragement to stay in school and on track to graduate. It often takes one small thing to tip a student one way or another, and I think Bain Capital wants to play a role in tipping the scales in favor of positive outcomes for more of our kids.

Final thoughts?

Everyone has idealism in them, but we don’t all get to express it so consistently and outwardly as do the AmeriCorps members and staff at City Year. It takes remarkable people to build a remarkable organization. Being connected to City Year reminds us just how far determined, committed and idealistic people can go.

Bain Capital serves as City Year’s National Gala Sponsor supporting each of City Year’s US sites and three international affiliates, in Birmingham and London, United Kingdom, and Johannesburg, South Africa, marking the first time a City Year sponsor has contributed directly to every site. Bain Capital and Bain Capital people have been essential to City Year’s development, growth and success for more than two decades, helping City Year grow to 27 US cities, with a corps of 3,000+ members, as well as to South Africa and the U.K. Nearly 300 members of Bain Capital have participated in volunteer service days, shared their expertise as advisers and board members, contributed generously to the organization financially, and leveraged their personal and professional networks on behalf of City Year.

More about Bain Capital’s Partnership with City Year