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Street fundraiser to successful philanthropy leader, Em Lewis

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

Welcome to Purposely with Em Lewis, CEO of Nikau Foundation.


Originally from the UK, Em is a skilled fundraiser and relationship builder who initially aspired to have a career in the arts. However, after working as a street fundraiser in London in the 20s, she decided to dedicate her professional life to philanthropy and fundraising. Em started by combining her passion for the arts with a role at the renowned Tate Gallery and later with roles leading Universities.


While street fundraising can be challenging for many due to the number of passers-by who ignore or reject approaches, Em found it invigorating. She discovered that not only was she exceptionally good at it, but it also taught her valuable early lessons on how to engage people and how to separate any personal feelings of rejection from the cause she was promoting.


Established in 1991 and inspired by a global movement, Nikau (originally known as Wellington Community Foundation) was the first community foundation in New Zealand. Today, Wellington is located at the bottom of New Zealand's North Island, and there are now 17 community foundations throughout the country. Each foundation works to make a positive and lasting impact within their respective regions. Collectively, these foundations have distributed over $50 million in the last five years, with a national asset base of over $230 million.


Nikau Foundation serves as a guardian of $32 million, which has been invested by donors to support local communities in the future. Additionally, Nikau operates as a Corporate Trustee for existing funds and trusts, providing valuable guidance on regional needs. Two notable foundations they work with are the Mark Dunajtschik Foundation and The Michael and Suzanne Borrin Foundation.


The community foundation movement has a rich history. It originated in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century, with the establishment of the first community foundation in Cleveland, Ohio, by Frederick Goff, a local banker and entrepreneur (Sacks 2014). Initially, community foundations were marketed as a means for banks to serve their local communities, and after the success of the Cleveland Foundation in 1914, similar foundations quickly emerged in the 22 largest cities in the United States.

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