Eric Richards did not originally intend to go into philanthropy. The Franklin College graduate and local Hoosier believed that he wanted to go into politics. However, when a unique opportunity arose his senior year of college, he switched directions.
Deeply involved in his fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha, Richards was asked if he wanted to become a traveling consultant and visit chapters around the country to conduct and oversee standards of chapter excellence. After accepting the position, he spent a year visiting Lambda Chi Alpha chapters all along the eastern coast of the U.S.
After that year though, he realized that he didn’t want to travel as much (“It was a great experience, but I knew that I didn’t want to travel as much the second year.”). He worked hard and after that year ended, earned a promotion through the fraternity.
At that time, he began going to graduate school for a master’s in public affairs while working full-time for the fraternity. Richards soon realized that he needed to make a program switch.
“I didn’t realize when I began my master’s degree that the philanthropic studies program existed,” he said. “I wanted to be a fundraiser, so when I found out about the master’s in philanthropic studies, I knew it was the best fit for my career path.”
It took about four and half years of part-time school, full-time work for the fraternity and later its foundation, and working on schoolwork in airports and hotels, but Richards graduated with a master’s degree in philanthropic studies in 2005. After working in development at Little Red Door Cancer Agency, he now serves as the president and CEO of Cancer Support Community Central Indiana, a local affiliate of a national organization.
In his role, he manages and works with other staff and board members, helps plan the organization’s signature fundraising event “Laughing Matters,” fundraises, plans staff development, and manages finances and strategic plans for the organization’s future growth (and even changes a light bulb here and there)!
Richards strives to make Cancer Support Community a welcoming environment for everyone.
“One of my goals is to create a place where employees feel appreciated, valued, and acknowledged for a job well done,” he said. “I also think it’s important to advocate on behalf of people who don’t have a voice when we do. We can talk to the public about what people experience when they have cancer, even if they don’t have the opportunity to do so. We need to be one of the voices out there saying there are issues that need to be addressed.”
To this day, he still uses knowledge gained from his experiences at the then-Center on Philanthropy to inform his thinking.
“The coursework is fantastic and top-notch,” Richards said. “It’s not only the coursework though, it’s the ability to network with other individuals who were in the program at the same time and are working in leadership positions. I’m able to talk with and bounce ideas off of other leaders in the nonprofit sector.”
In addition, Richards uses research produced by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy to inform his thinking about current philanthropic trends and policy.
“I want Cancer Support Community to be fiscally responsible and continually synonymous with credibility and quality,” he said. “The school produces incredible research, such as the research on tax reform and how it will affect charitable giving. If donations drop off, I know because of the school’s research why that’s happening.”
He continues to support the school as well, serving on the alumni board and alumni panels to talk about his experiences and career with current students (“It’s great to be reconnected with an institution of higher learning that’s doing phenomenal work.”).
In addition, Richards also regularly donates to the school: “I’m a donor to the school because it impacted my life. I want to give back so that others can have the same experiences that I had so they can be impacted and go out into the nonprofit world and make the world a better place.”