Dr. Shanaysha Sauls joined the Baltimore Community Foundation (BCF) as president and CEO in 2018. She is the first person of color to lead the almost 50-year organization and the first woman to serve as CEO. The Daily Record named her one of the state’s most admired CEOs of 2021.
Q: What inspired you to come work for BCF?
A: It’s one of those organizations where it brings together a lot of different Baltimoreans in a good way. But frankly, I didn’t think I had a chance. It wasn’t until that moment when someone else told me that I could fit in the role that I actually could see myself in the role. That was kind of the beginning of everything and the idea that the community broadly would identify that there is not one way to be a philanthropist, one way to be a donor or one way to be a good leader. And that’s just so Baltimore.
Q: What motivates you in your work?
A: The people. Whether you are a fourth, fifth or first generation Baltimorean, or you just got here five to seven years ago—there’s something about the city and the region that kind of gets its hooks into you. And it just brings amazing people that are so inspiring and so focused in making their communities and their region a better place. I’m also inspired by the fact that you know Baltimore is, frankly, a little bit of an underdog city. It’s unfortunate that we sometimes see ourselves that way, but there’s so many surprises about the city. I think that we continue to have people—despite the bumps in the road—who still believe the city can live up to its fullest potential.
Q: What do you feel has been your greatest accomplishment so far?
A: I think if I’m proud of anything, it’s that there is a commitment to working across silos or across organizations, but there’s also a humility that it doesn’t always matter where you sit at the table. You don’t have to sit at the head of the table. But if we’re really gonna move the needle, we have to figure out ways to work together.
Q: How did your previous roles in education and leadership prepare you for the role you’re in now?
A: I think that being an academic has taught me that you have to be studied and thoughtful and always be uncertain. There’s always someone else in the room who’s smarter than you are. I’ve been able to maintain or at least remind myself that keeping a healthy amount of uncertainty is helpful, even when you think that you know everything. Working in market research for colleges and universities has taught me to No. 1 have your facts right but to learn how to engage people when we have entrenched feelings about what storied or antiquated institutions are supposed to be. Bliss taught me how to embrace my womanhood. I’ve been a woman all my life but always in a male-dominated field. When I got to Bliss (the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women), I learned how to fully embrace being a woman and being a woman of color, and all the things that we bring to the world.
Q: The Baltimore Community Foundation will celebrate 50 years in 2022. What’s on the horizon?
A: We are going to take some of our “standard” events and blow them up a little bit. We want to take our constituencies into the neighborhoods where we’ve invested. We want to be able to celebrate our impact investing and the future of impact investing, and we’re lucky because the Mission Investors Exchange, which is the largest network in the country of thousands of foundations that do impact investing, is coming to Baltimore in December 2022. This will be a tremendous opportunity to introduce Baltimore to foundations across the country and reintroduce ourselves to Baltimore in terms of the changes. Because we’ve faced significant changes as a city and as a region through impact investing, so we’ll be able to celebrate Baltimore as we commemorate the 50th anniversary.
Q: What is your personal style?
A: My personal style is comfortable, feminine and timeless. I have sort of basic colors—blacks and whites, golds and earth tones.