President of Client Services, Ascend Fundraising Solutions
Elevating the Dream Home Lottery in London, Ontario, Rita has crafted her expertise in lotteries. Since 2005, Rita has secured almost 80 Dream Homes for London’s hospitals as a part of Dream Lottery. Her exceptional understanding of emerging markets and ongoing trends has led her to develop an outstanding team of highly skilled professionals driven by results.
We sat down with Rita to reflect on her remarkable career in charitable fundraising, the steps she took to get there, and the advice she would give her younger self and other aspiring fundraising professionals.
**This interview has been edited for length and clarity.**
How did you get started in the charitable industry?
I strongly believe that passion is essential in whatever you do. Throughout my career, I attended various events where I saw the positive impact that fundraisers had on not-for-profit organizations. I fell in love with the thought of fundraising and making a difference in the lives of those less fortunate.
I have been privileged to have mentors throughout my life who have guided me toward the best fit for my career. Through these discussions, I began to contemplate what kind of legacy I wanted to leave as I aged. It definitely took some time to figure that out, but I realized that I wanted to give back to the community and assist not-for-profit organizations in raising funds. So, here I am!
What paths did you consider going down before becoming a professional fundraiser?
Those 18 years of my life were very fulfilling because I enjoyed having a clear direction. As a critical thinker who is numbers-oriented, attentive to detail, and interested in data analysis, some thought I would become an accountant!
How has your career in fundraising evolved over time?
I started my career at Canada Trust, which merged into TD Canada Trust. After I had worked there for 18 years, I left the company to pursue a different path—something I really wanted to do—and moved from Oakville, back to London, Ontario. After working some interim jobs, I was approached for a part-time position running a 24-hour relay fundraising event associated with London’s hospitals. I must have done a great job, as I was offered a position to run a Dream Home Lottery!
This was something at an exceptionally large scope. Although I had never done this before, but I had the passion and drive to learn how. I read everything I could get my hands on, hired a team, and received mentorship from executives in the foundation to run the lottery successfully.
In my next career move, I left to work with a consultant who runs mega-lotteries throughout Canada for almost four years. I then went on to fulfill my dream of owning a boutique company, Let’s Make Results (LMR) Consulting, with a team of hand-selected young, entrepreneurial women. After almost three years, Ascend approached LMR to be acquired: a great opportunity for my team’s long-term success.
I was happy with our boutique but recognized the opportunity to help a much larger market in addition to our London community.
While I didn’t expect it, I am truly fortunate to have transitioned from working at a boutique
level to AscendFS, a company that has helped over 500 charities, foundations, and not-for-profits raise +$1 billion USD!
What is your favorite part of working with Ascend?
I find a lot of satisfaction in the work we do, which makes a difference in the lives of others.
Our office is also a place where employees always respect each other and work collaboratively, despite the inevitable ups and downs. We have a strong executive team and a great company culture that values every single employee’s contributions and feedback. I love our teamwork, creativity, collaboration, and how we all come together to create a fun and friendly atmosphere. Ascend is flexible with work-life balance and allows for both remote work and in-office days, and I appreciate that.
Our CEO, Daniel Lewis, encourages risk-taking and learning from failures. He believes if you never fail, you aren’t taking enough risks–and I think that’s a tough one for most people to wrap their heads around. If things don’t go as planned, it’s okay. Acknowledge what you’ve learned and then move on to continue to make this a better place!
Which project gives you the most pride?
Obviously, Dream Home Lottery is one of the things I’m most proud of. Since 2005, our team has raised almost $50 million for London’s hospitals! Also, I’m blessed with an amazing team of incredible individuals who all share a passion for giving back to worthwhile causes.
Additionally, I’m proud when I reflect on the journey of taking a small boutique, growing it, and its eventual acquisition by Ascend–which I never imagined would be possible! The decision-making process for this acquisition was a team effort. It wasn’t about what I wanted, but what the collective team wanted for their futures. I’m proud of their commitment to leading us to success.
I have experienced significant loss in life in a short period of time. This has given me a perspective on the brevity of life, the importance of being a good person, and seeing the best in others. I gain so much satisfaction from mentoring others–my family, my team, my friends–and bringing out the best in people.
What would people be surprised to find out about you?
I took a big risk by quitting a well-paying full-time job with benefits for a three-month contract in the fundraising world. My husband thought I was crazy! “You’re going to make less money, have no benefits, and all with no guarantees?” My answer was “yes.”
I took the risk because I believed that everything happens for a reason. I had a passion for fundraising.
It all worked out. I landed a position at London Health Sciences Foundation which allowed me to fundraise at the dream home lottery level! This decision was not easy, as I put a lot on the line for an uncertain career path. I was a young parent of two with a husband that traveled for work! Thankfully, taking the risk and following my passion paid off in the end.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
- Surround yourself with positive people who support and uplift you, as negativity can bring you down. Focus on the present moment and look at the positive, as it can help you navigate challenges in life.
- Don’t hold grudges. I’ve learned that both in my professional and my personal life. It can negatively impact your personal and physical health.
- Don’t be afraid to fail and view it as an opportunity to learn and improve. I’m still learning that and I’m turning 60 this year! So what if something didn’t go as planned? Had I not tried it, I wouldn’t have learned what I need to change to make it a success.
- Don’t worry about what others think: be confident and proud of who you are.
- Find a mentor! A mentor can guide and support you both professionally and personally, providing valuable perspectives from their own experiences.
Combining innovative creative marketing, cutting-edge digital strategy, and top-tier project management, Rita’s team provides quality service to Ascend clients. Let us help you navigate the world of charitable fundraising. Schedule a call today!