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United Voices: An Interview with Board Chair, Raj Natarajan

By: Taylor Mabrey, Content Manager

United Voices is a series of interviews with community leaders sharing their expertise, passion and involvement across the greater Charlotte region.

This month, I sat down with United Way of Greater Charlotte’s board chair, Raj Natarajan, to talk about his background, his passion for philanthropy and his relationship with United Way.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Natarajan: I moved to Charlotte from Atlanta more than 15 years ago and work as Partner at McGuireWoods, a firm that provides legal and public affairs solutions to corporate, individual and nonprofit clients. I joined United Way’s Board of Directors in 2021 and this year I will serve as Chair.

My wife, Carter Arey Natarajan, and I are Tocqueville Society members and continue to value philanthropy because we know the importance of investing in our community. Carter, a native of Charlotte, is innovation counsel and ClientSync team lead at McGuireWoods, overseeing the firm’s Legal Project Management efforts. We have four children—Jude, Bodhi, Violet and Ren.

How did you get involved with United Way?

Natarajan: The first nine years of my career, I was in Atlanta, and United Way of Greater Atlanta was a big deal. All companies did their workplace campaigns for United Way, and it was a big campaign. So from my first year of working, United Way has always been a top destination for community investment for me. When I moved to Charlotte, I looked for United Way, because of its reputation. I immediately got involved in running the workplace campaign at McGuireWoods.

What about United Way’s mission excites you?

Natarajan: I love that we are working to improve economic mobility and racial inequities by focusing on our neighborhoods hit the hardest. Investing in those communities and their leaders is an exciting opportunity to see those communities thrive and reach their greatest potential.

How has United Way helped to connect you with what’s going on in our community?

Natarajan: I met Jamaal Kinard, the executive director from Lakeview Neighborhood Alliance, and thought he was just super dynamic– his story, what he’s done, how he has become a leader in his neighborhood to drive change – it’s really moving. When he came in and spoke to us at one of our United Way campaign kickoffs, it’s the year we had the highest participation and dollar amounts contributed to the campaign.

Tell us more about McGuire Wood’s skill-based partnership with Lakeview.

Natarajan: After working in a law firm, I’ve learned that if people give their time to something, you have a better shot at getting dollars from them. So if you serve on a board or a committee, if you give your time and volunteer with an organization, you’re likely to get support from a law firm to do it.

For a lot of people, United Way feels a little intangible. I think a lot of people that are not quite sure what United Way does are thinking ‘what exactly am I giving to?’ Connecting with Lakeview made it tangible. So we offered three options for our staff. The first is that they have the opportunity to go to Lakeview and be a part of the neighborhood. For example, when I get the monthly newsletter from Lakeview Neighborhood Alliance, I send it to our entire office so they can see what’s going on, like who won garden of the month and all the other great stuff that’s happening so we feel like a part of the neighborhood. Included in that is volunteering on cleanup days, or letting employees know when there are festivals. It’s impactful to give people the opportunity to connect with the neighborhood. The second is providing the skills that we have, which, as lawyers, are legal services. What we have been doing for much of last year is going and doing office hours there in Lakeview. We had two attorneys going in every other week just sitting down, listening and taking notes. They would then find about seven or eight of those things that we could handle in-house and other things we could send to Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy (CCLA). So we were doing it in conjunction with and with the support of CCLA. The third prong is that if you do both of those things, I think money follows, and I think it has definitely helped with the connection.

Any thoughts about the year ahead?

Natarajan: We have some big things in front of us that we’re taking on so I think it’s going to be a good, yet challenging year. There is such great leadership within the organization and I feel good about working together with everyone. I’ve been on a lot of boards, but this is my favorite thus far.

Meet the rest of United Way’s Board of Directors or learn more about United Way’s United Neighborhoods initiative.