Fundraising with Joy Interview – Rickesh Lakhani

Rickesh Lakhani, Director, Campaign, United Way of York Region

Rickesh headshotBy title, Rickesh is Director of Campaign, but he also chooses to describe himself as “Social-Profit Sector Builder, Involved Community Citizen, Warrior Against Apathy.” When I met Rickesh at a networking event earlier this year, I walked away feeling energized and inspired. We had an engaging conversation that, on the surface, was about assessment tools, but really was about human nature and understanding each other to build stronger connections. It was a true kindred spirit moment for me and I have been grateful that many additional conversations have grown from that moment.

I know that people who know Rickesh (in real life or on Twitter) get the same feeling. He is curious and positive and his commitment to leaving this world in a better place is infectious.

Rickesh loves “to meet, learn from and support” people who are contributing to a better world. To me he is a one of these people and a great example of leader in our sector who focuses on bringing out the best in others and celebrating their contributions. He embodies the idea that success is a shared experience and this perspective shines through his answers below.

Connect with Rickesh on Twitter @ConstantChanges or through his blog

Janice: What made you choose a career in the social profit sector?

One day you wake up, and you realize “I’m a fundraiser – how did that happen?” That is exactly what happened to me. While my education was focused on business, I always felt that the bottom line I wanted to work for was the number of people helped. I knew early on that drawing meaning from career would be important, after being in roles where I felt devoid of that meaning. A quick stint in a contract role on a fundraising team, and I was sold.

Janice: What does philanthropy mean to you? Has your definition changed over time?

Give give give. The generous people of the world are what keep it from swirling into oblivion. Philanthropy is giving anything when you didn’t have to, but wanted to. It’s a can of soup to a homeless shelter, it’s an hour of time at a PTA meeting, coming up with a great idea to resolve a big problem, a $5 donation to your favourite charity or leaving a legacy gift. Philanthropy is not based on the size or value of what you give – it’s that you care enough to do something for someone else. I used to think philanthropy had a minimum million $ price tag and that it was only about money – but that is like trying to put a price on love and compassion. Fundraising is a part of philanthropy, but it’s not the whole thing. I remember the story of a member of a community living organization that saved pennies over time to pull together $10 so he could make a donation. THAT is philanthropy.

Janice: How does your organization’s mission connect to your personal values?

The big picture is really important to me – thinking about the systems that are behind a lot of issues that we face. United Way is working to “turn off the tap” and stop issues before they start. At the same time, we recognize urgent needs aren’t going away, so we do provide support for individuals and families having difficulties accessing housing, safety for women and children in abusive situations, services to help newcomers succeed in Canada and mental health supports for youth and adults. It’s the best of all worlds – crisis, healing and prevention. It’s the only way I believe we can face these issues. Homelessness, poverty, vulnerable youth – these are the wickedest of wicked issues, and they’re not going away unless everyone has skin in this game. This ties into my core belief – we are all responsible for each other’s success.

Janice: What brings you the most joy in your work?

Facing exciting new challenges literally every day. The chance to try different strategies and see how they go (or occasionally don’t go). Providing a space for people to feel good and give back. That look on a donor or volunteer’s face when they realize what they have accomplished. Working with the best team anyone could ever imagine. Those are all great. Seeing those around me succeed is by far the greatest source of joy. Any success I have had or will have is completely dependent on those around me. Zig Ziglar said something to that effect – and I believe it. Their success is our shared success – and that brings tons of joy!

Janice: Your job focuses on cultivating relationships and supporting others, what do you do to recharge your batteries?

The work itself is energizing…seriously! Although we all need balance. Personal interests are even more important when life is hectic, even though ironically that’s when we feel we don’t have the time to put into them. Spending as much time as possible with my young son and wife are the best moments by far. Bike riding and playing the drums are great stress busters and invigorators. Being outside and hearing the natural sounds of the world, whether it’s birds, the wind or children playing – that can make time completely stand still and you can get into quite a zen state. My extroverted side is energized by meeting people working to make the world better. I’ve learned tons from them and they’ve helped me so much, I always walk away with an extra kick in my step. That’s how I felt after I first met you, Janice! It’s a closed loop – the more you do things that energize you, the more energy you have, and more time you will invest in these things because you can see the benefit.

Janice: Research shows that philanthropy and volunteerism are proven ways to increase happiness. How have you experienced this in your work and life?

The ultimate litmus test is how you feel – and I feel great! I also get to see firsthand how people feel about joining the cause and fighting the good fight – and they feel pretty good too. Seeing groups of people rally together, achieve a goal and celebrate success is very fulfilling. As far as volunteering, I have gained so much in the way of experience, relationships and fun that I’ve become a broken record pushing people to get out there and get involved in the community. You get so much back that you can’t afford missing chances to give of yourself. Give even an hour a month to a cause you care about and doors will open. I promise that.

This is also about more than happiness. This is about paying back the social capital that was given to you by others along your path, sometimes without you knowing. Nobody does it alone. So not only does it make you happy to give to others, you pretty much owe it to the world!

Janice: Our work in the social profit sector allows us to make a contribution. What is the lasting impact you want to make during your career?

If I can spend my life connecting people to each other, supporting them to achieve success and helping them to smash their life goals. I will chalk that up as a good career. The ultimate legacy would be that whatever I am part of creating would continue when I’m gone. It has to move from being about the person to being about a sustainable movement that lives on and beyond. You must ensure that others can take over and keep the torch burning, or you haven’t done your job. If I can start a couple of lasting movements, I will consider it a great career.

© 2013, Janice Cunning. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this posting if you include my contact information. Please contact me if you wish to reprint any portion of it in any periodical or on a website

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About Janice Cunning

As a certified coach and fundraiser, I am passionate about partnering with people and teams to increase their personal and professional Joy Quota.

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