After a career in college athletics administration, including five years as director of Xavier University’s Cintas Center, Mike Dunn might not seem to be the obvious choice as executive director of the Society of St. Vincent DePaul’s Cincinnati District Council.

It was a transition that began less than a year ago with conversations with Kathleen List, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati, where Dunn had served on the board. “I told her I thought I was at the stage in my life where I wanted to give back more to my community,” he says.

A couple months later, he found himself a candidate to succeed longtime St. Vincent DePaul Executive Director Liz Carter when she was named president and CEO of the Scripps Howard Foundation. He succeeded her in June.

It seems like a big switch from college athletics to managing a Catholic charity. Do you think it has been?

Initially when people heard I was transitioning from that world to this world they would say, “ Wow, that’s a big difference.” But when you really boil it down, my more than 16 years at Xavier included responsibilities in marketing and advertising, sales, operations and fundraising. 

All those skills are required in this role. We have a staff and volunteers doing the hard work out in the community. My role is to provide the resources and the path, if you will, for them to do that great work. The jobs are more similar than most people think.

What have you learned in your new role?

I’m a practicing Catholic, but frankly I didn’t know a great deal about St. Vincent DePaul beyond the fact they had boxes at parishes and stores in Cincinnati. But once I dug into what they do it resonated with me. In its simplest form we foster hope for the poor, lonely and forgotten. 

Our calling card, so to speak, is in the emergency assistance business. We try to help people through those rough patches in life so they can get back on their feet.

Can you talk about St. Vincent De Paul’s operations in Cincinnati?

At its heart, we’re a volunteer organization and we have about 956 volunteers in what we call conferences, based out of 59 parishes and two local high schools.

Last year we reached just over 125,000 individuals with an array of social services, such as the pantry here on Bank Street and eight other pantries in local parishes, and a charitable pharmacy. In 2014 we dispensed over 36,000 prescriptions. The third aspect of our organization is the stores that help generate revenue for our social services. We are also active helping those released from prison in re-entering the community.

Have you formed some goals you can talk about?

There are a lot of good things going on in Cincinnati, from the Banks to Over-the-Rhine, but we have one of the highest poverty rates for children in the United States and we have a very high infant mortality rate. As we move forward, we really want to be a voice for those folks and expand on our services. We’re serving the right populations and offering the right services. We just have to do more of it. That comes down to increasing our funding from private folks, corporations and foundations.