Young Bay Street drives new wave of philanthropy

Tim Kiladze, Globe & Mail

From left: President of Canadian Tire Michael Medline, event attendee Ray Ward, CEO of Oxford Properties Group Blake Hutcheson and CEO of Freshii Matthew Corrin chat at a SickKids charity breakfast in Toronto last month.

From left: President of Canadian Tire Michael Medline, event attendee Ray Ward, CEO of Oxford Properties Group Blake Hutcheson and CEO of Freshii Matthew Corrin chat at a SickKids charity breakfast in Toronto last month.

Capitalizing on the opportunity to showcase their potential, Bay Street’s young stars are teaming up with high-profile charities to design innovative philanthropic campaigns.

In industries such as banking and corporate law, junior staffers are rarely asked to weigh in on business ideas. Success in these roles is often associated with a laser-like attention to detail that catches typos in PowerPoint slides at three in the morning.

For young professionals who were heavily involved in student clubs or event planning while they were in school, the lack of leadership opportunities can be frustrating.

To compensate, Bay Street’s next generation is turning to philanthropy. Over the past few weeks, for instance, teams of young professionals have run highly successful events for the philanthropic arms of the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction, the Hospital for Sick Children and St. Michael’s Hospital, all in Toronto.

Young professionals are a crucial demographic for charities. “In a city like Toronto, where we’re all fishing from the same pond when it comes to milliondollar gifts, we need to be expanding our networks,” said Lori Smith, who served as liaison to the young professionals helping CAMH. The people who run the organization’s Engage campaign can’t necessarily donate $1-million today, Ms. Smith said, “but in 10 years, they might be able to.”

Simon Leith and Jonathan Tong, young corporate lawyers at Osler Hoskin & Harcourt and Baker & McKenzie, respectively, recently hosted the third annual Breakfast of Champions for SickKids. Roughly 300 young professionals showed up to seize the chance to network with the likes of Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd.’s president, the head of Holt Renfrew & Co. Ltd. and the CEO of Oxford Properties Group Inc. Since its inception, the event has raised close to $164,000 for the hospital.

Organizing the breakfast “is kind of an excuse to exercise muscles that we don’t normally use on a day-to-day basis – muscles we haven’t really used since undergrad or law school,” Mr. Tong said.

Traditionally, high-profile seats on boards at major hospitals and arts organizations have been reserved for veteran deal makers and executives – often because they have access to wealthy donors. The board at Sick Kids’ official charity foundation, for instance, includes Fairfax Financial head Prem Watsa. By running their own campaigns and events, young professionals are carving out their own niche in the charity world.

Young Bay Streeters’ participation isn’t limited to single events. Sabrina Ceccarelli, corporate counsel at Siemens Canada, emceed the Sick Kids breakfast, but also sits on the board of antipoverty organization Plan Canada. Before she joined, the average age of the charity’s directors was in the 50s.

However, there is a fine line between giving back and flaunting status. Wall Street has seen its share of the latter.

Erik Mikkelsen, who has worked in investment banking and private equity in both Canada and the U.S. and now runs a company, has seen charitable giving in New York that raises questions about participants’ motivations. At an event in which dates with bachelors and bachelorettes were auctioned off, “there were 21-year-olds bidding $20,000, $30,000 dollars,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘It’s for a good cause. But this is blatantly showing off.’ ”

As one of the people behind CAMH Engage, Mr. Mikkelsen says that at the outset, “we were very open with everyone we brought out and said, ‘This isn’t a party planning committee.’ ” Yet when it comes to getting friends out to the events, Roxanne Chapman, who runs party planning company Proper Plan, said young professionals court social status in a benign way.

In the Instagram era, she says, people love broadcasting where they are. “Instead of writing a silent, anonymous cheque, people are posting [pictures]” from these events, which ultimately raises awareness of the organizations.

DARREN CALABRESE FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL

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Young Bay Street drives new wave of philanthropy