Ritu Singh NetIP (Network of Indian Professionals) Interview – South Asians in North America – To Get or to Give? A Call for Volunteerism
NetIP Spotlight: Live Your Potential is a monthly show featuring experts on trending topics.
“South Asians in North America: To Get or To Give? A Call to Volunteerism”
Jasbina Ahluwalia interviews Ritu Singh
Jasbina interviews Ritu Singh, President, NetIP North America, 2012-2014
From Ritu Singh, you will learn about:
- Finding the right non-profit/volunteer opportunity for you
- NetIP’s four pillars of community service, cultural awareness, political awareness and professional development.
- Developing leadership abilities in the non-profit environment
- The importance of fundraising for non-profits along with tips & tactics
Ritu Singh practiced as a patent attorney for six years before deciding to return to school full-time in 2013. She recently graduated with an M.S. degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Ohio State University.
She previously graduated with a B.S. in Industrial Engineering and Economics from Northwestern University in 2002 and with a J.D. from the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University in 2007.
Ritu has been actively involved with non-profits since 2007, including local music, children-based, volunteer-based and theater organizations.
Ritu has been with NetIP at both the local and North America level since 2008. This year, while she ends her two-year term as President of NetIP North America, she plans to continue pursuing her passion of working with non-profits and volunteering. She is happy to share the information she has learned along the way, such as dealing with nonprofit compliance, conflict management, leadership development and fundraising.
(00:47): Hello everyone. Welcome to NetIP Spotlight: Live Your Potential where we invite guest experts to speak on a variety of trending topics that matter to you. I’m Jasbina Ahluwalia, your host. I want to warmly welcome you to our show this evening.
I know everyone is crazy busy these days. I appreciate your investing time and joining us this evening. To give you a lay of the land, our guest speaker and I will be discussing her insights for about 20 minutes. After the discussion, you’ll have the opportunity to ask her any questions that you might have. With that said, let’s jump in.
Today’s guest speaker is Ritu Singh, the 2012-2014 President of NetIP North America. Ritu Singh practiced as a patent attorney for six years before deciding to return to school full-time in 2013. She recently graduated with a Master’s degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Ohio State University. She previously graduated with a BS in Industrial Engineering and Economics from Northwestern in 2002 and a JD from the Mortiz College of Law at The Ohio State University in 2007.
Ritu has been actively involved with non-profits since 2007, including local music, children-based, volunteer-based and theater organizations. Ritu has been with NetIP at both the local and North America levels since 2008. This year, while she ends her two-year term as President of NetIP North America, she constantly continues pursuing her passion of working with non-profits and volunteering.
She’s happy to share the information she’s learned along the way, such as dealing with non-profit compliance, conflict management, leadership development and fundraising. Welcome to the show, Ritu.
(2:39): Thank you, Jasbina. Thank you so much for that wonderful introduction.
(2:43): It’s an honor to have you. Given your active involvement in a variety of different non-profits over the years, what guidance can you offer our listeners who may be interested in finding the right non-profit volunteer opportunity for themselves?
(2:59): The first thing they should ask themselves is about their interests and passions. What are their hobbies? What are things, outside of work, that energize them and make them happy? Start reflecting on this and seeing how you can incorporate this into your life. For many people, this comes through volunteer opportunities.
For example, are you passionate about music? Maybe you’re never going to be a concert pianist. That doesn’t mean that you can’t find a non-profit that is directed towards music and these gifts and talents. Perhaps you’re interested in helping your community and have a focus on childhood education. There are a variety of opportunities out there at local community levels, nationally and globally.
Are you interested in the theater? For example, I was on the board of the Cincinnati Shakespeare Theater. I love attending the theater. It was something very interesting for me. When the opportunity arose, I decided to jump right in. There are so many opportunities out there for people. I would say that the first step is to reflect on your own passions and interests. Perhaps do a little research to see what’s around you. Go ahead, jump in and explore some of these opportunities.
(4:16): I noticed the theme of passion that’s been running throughout the year. From the first show through all of them, I think passion has been mentioned. I think it’s integral in terms of making the kind of impact that you and our other guest have had.
As the NetIP President, what can you tell our listeners about NetIP’s four pillars? They are community service, cultural awareness, political awareness and professional development. What’s your perspective on those as the NetIP President?
(4:51): This ties in well with that theme of passion. In NetIP, you can really explore any of these, if that is your passion. For example, the four pillars are things that our NetIP chapters try to emphasize in the events that they throw. There is community service. If you want to be actively involved in the community, there are a variety of community service events. There is cultural awareness.
For example, two of our chapters have had their Diwali galas. They educate the communities about what Diwali is to people with Indian or South Asian descent. There is political awareness. We try to have people become more aware of what’s going on in politics around them to know why it’s important to vote and who is impacting the community, especially in light of Dr. Vivek Murthy being appointed Surgeon General in the US.
It’s great to have an understanding of his path to get there. He was very active in non-profits and has been a previous speaker at NetIP Conference. He was a speaker in our last event, the Professional Development Event, in a panel that talked about pursuing your passion and changing career paths. These four pillars go along with the NetIP mission.
Our mission is to serve as adequate vocal voice for the South Asian diaspora. We do this by developing an engaging a cohesive network of professionals to benefit the community. We also have a foundation, the NetIP Foundation. The foundation has a mission to promote leadership and service to benefit the community. It really emphasizes this aspect of benefitting the community through these four pillars.
(6:44): I want to give a shout out to Dr. Murthy as well. I was moderating a panel one year that he was on. I remember him sharing some anecdotes about his life and what motivated him.
If someone is listening to this and they’re interested in learning a little bit more about how they can participate, what advice would you have for them in terms of how to go about the logistics of finding out how to become more involved?
(7:19): First, if you have a local chapter, attend some of the events. Each of the chapters have their own website. The main website is na.netip.org. You can find a variety of information of what’s going on in your local community. You can reach out to some of the specific chapter leaders or executive team members at the North America level as well. All of their information is listed on that website also.
(7:51): Let’s talk about leadership. From your experience as the NetIP President, what can you share with our listeners regarding developing leadership abilities in the non-profit environment? I know you may have some interesting anecdotes that you have experienced along the way as well.
(8:16): There is one thing that I inform my team members of as well as officers of the leadership conferences. As a non-profit officer, if you get to that leadership role, you are running a business. You are a community leader. You really need to understand what that means and step up to your responsibilities.
You need to be responsive, professional and treat a volunteer opportunity the same way you would a professional paid job. That’s one thing that I would encourage and recommend people to understand. Through that, you develop your leadership abilities. You will learn how to manage a team. You’ll learn how to work with team members.
There are a number of instances where I’ve had to work with people who were in conflict themselves and had to work through those problems and assist with conflict management. I’ve learned to listen and be patient. I’ve had time to reflect on my experiences and try to improve myself as a leader through these experiences. I think a lot of personal reflection occurs through such a role. That really does help develop your leadership abilities.
Then there are other opportunities that can be a factor towards being a good leader that others might not think of right away. I’ve had opportunities to engage in public speaking through NetIP North America. For example, I’ve done quite a bit of speaking at the annual conferences that we have. I’ve also had a variety of networking opportunities. Every time you talk to a potential sponsor or build a new contact or network, you want to put forth that professional aspect. You do improve upon your leadership abilities that was as well.
You are a reflection of your role. That helps to encourage other team members to be professional as well. There is also developing skills, like managing a budget or learning about compliance in the non-profit area. You need to remember to advance your professional reputation, even if this is just a volunteer position.
Being quick to respond or seeking to have mentors to develop these abilities are the most important aspects. I learned quite a bit as I advanced through the ranks from the leaders around me. I tried to take what I learned from them, share that and be a mentor in return. That is my description, in a nutshell, about developing these leadership abilities.
(11:01): Over the years, I’ve been involved with speaking and different NetIP environments. I’ve been struck by the professionalism of the volunteers and how well run things are. You mentioned conflict management, public speaking and managing a budget. All of these are so transferable. I imagine the skills that the volunteers are learning in terms of leadership are transferable to their profession.
I imagine the leadership of non-profits involves the responsibility of fundraising. That’s something that is transferable as well, both in the non-profit and for-profit worlds. I’m wondering if you have any tips or tactics regarding fundraising that you can share with our listeners who may be in a similar role. They may be working with a non-profit, in a non-profit aspect of a corporate job or might wish to obtain such a role in the future and find fundraising interesting. What tips, strategies or tactics can you share?
(12:31): I think that fundraising is a very important skill to have. I’m one of the first people to say that I’m never comfortable asking others for money, but it is something that has to occur in the non-profit world. You can go back to that theme of passion. If you’re really passionate about what the non-profit does and you have a built-out plan and strategy, it becomes easier after time. It’s not just about asking for funds. At some point, you say, “How can we work together for a mutually beneficial situation?” It might be more of an in-kind sponsorship opportunity or presenting a list of options. It goes to the core of being passionate about what you’re asking for.
Be prepared. Have that elevator speech ready about the organization. Know your organization. For example, is it a 501(c)(3) organization in the US for the IRS code? This means that companies can take a charitable deduction if they were to give a monetary gift. Have those tax letters prepared for the donors. Really do your homework. You also need to be prepared to hear a lot of no’s. That’s okay.
Sometimes, when people hear no, they take that rejection personally. They might not follow up. Use it as an opportunity to follow up. You could say, “I understand it might not be possible this year. Please keep us in mind for next year.” Build on those community contacts and connections. Present those options. Perhaps there is an opportunity that had not been presented to the sponsor.
Ask them, “Is there something you would like to explore?” Keep building on pre-existing contacts. Have a tracker so that you don’t have multiple people in your organization reaching out to the same contacts without either one being aware. Have a solid plan with a professional brochure listing sponsorship levels and options. Follow chain of command in your organization to avoid confusion.
Again, always be professional. At the very end, when you do get these sponsors in and you fundraise for the company, make sure to remember to thank them. Have thank you notes and messages prepared following any sponsored event and at the end of the year.
For an outside-of-the-box event, you can use fundraising platforms that are online. You can have a silent auction. You can host a 5K to raise funds. You can raise funds at live events. We’ve done this before with a rally at our annual conferences.
This is something that I’ve learned through NetIP and other organizations that I’ve been involved with. Have your fundraising team role play different versions and scenarios. Have a phone call where someone asks for another option or says no. Practice and have a speech ready. That would be my advice in regards to fundraising for non-profits.
(15:54): You mentioned that you need to believe in the mission. You need to have that passion and connect it with the fundraising. Make it okay to get a no. It’s the mission that matters. Asking if there is something else they’d like to explore is brilliant. With fundraising, if one gets too tied into the option that the entity has laid out, they might lose opportunities. Asking if there is something else they’d like to explore could open up some synergies that the entity may not have thought about.
I really appreciate you sharing your insights with us, Ritu. Do you have any last thoughts or take-home message that you’d like to share with our listeners before we jump into Q&A?
(16:52): I’ve been mentioning these annual conferences. I know that the current team is already planning the 2015 conference over Columbus Day weekend in the New York City area. While that will be the 24th Annual Conference, it will be the 25th year of NetIP North America. I want to encourage listeners to go to the website and keep an eye out. See how that progressed and buy your tickets. You can get some early bird specials that are refundable at the moment.
My take-away message goes back to that first point when we talked about passion and finding the right volunteer opportunity for you. When you go give back to your own communities, you really give back to yourself. Your giving becomes getting, in that sense. The investment you make in others becomes an investment in yourself. You are your own greatest asset.
You continue to strive to improve upon yourself by serving others. You will find that you extend your awareness, empathy and consciousness through these efforts. Through that, I believe that you feed your mind, body and soul. You continue to improve yourself. I think that’s one of the best gifts you can get through giving. That would be my last thought.
(18:14): Giving is so fulfilling for the giver on so many levels. Everyone, here is your chance to ask Ritu any questions that you might have. Go ahead, first caller.
(18:56): Hi, Ritu. Thanks so much for taking the time. You mentioned about finding a non-profit that you’re passionate about, something that you enjoy very much. Some of our callers may be interested in causes that may not be geographically near them. They may need to volunteer remotely. Could you give us some of the opportunities and challenges faced by those who want to volunteer in organizations that are not geographically located near them?
(19:31): Yes. I can talk about it from my personal experiences. I started with NetIP at the local level in Pittsburgh where we have a chapter. Then I moved to Indiana where there was not a chapter. At that point, one of my peers reached out to me to have me become a chair at the North America level. I was able to become an internal affairs chair. This was a virtual role.
A lot of the work that’s done in NetIP North America at a more advanced level is virtually based. We have people in a variety of different cities who are helping out the 24 chapters that we have across North America while planning this annual conference. That is specific to NetIP but there are a variety of other opportunities out there if you don’t have that geographical opportunity near you.
For example, we work with organizations through NetIP that provide books to children in Africa and India. You can find quite a few of these opportunities online. You know your own interests the best. Go online and do some research about non-profit opportunities around you. See how you can find the best fit.
(20:47): That’s awesome. Thank you.
(20:55): Thank you for taking our listener’s questions, Ritu. For our listeners who are listening to the recording or who may have questions that come to mind in the future, what is the best way for them to contact you?
(21:08): You can reach me at my NetIP email, which is firstname.lastname@example.org. I am more than happy to follow up on this conversation for any questions you might have.
(21:27): Thank you. In case you joined us late or if you’d like to share this show with people in your life, a recording of this show will be sent out. I appreciate everyone hanging out with us. Take care, everyone.
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