Young professionals fundraise for Sickkids and show you don’t need the big bucks to be a champion

By Emily Rumball | October 1, 2018
from Notable Life

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Young professionals just starting out have it hard.

While older generations often believe that millennials are a selfish and greedy generation, individuals like Simon Leith, Jonathan Tong, and David Leith are breaking the mould and inspiring other young professionals to do the same.

Co-chairs of the massively successful fundraising event ‘Breakfast of Champions,’ Simon, Jon and David know that writing a cheque isn’t the only way to make a big difference. They have committed to raising $1 million for SickKids Foundation and have already raised $600,000 through the SickKids Activators program. The SickKids Activators Program gives millennials access to marketing resources, mentors, and professional and social networking opportunities that help unleash creativity and skills and ensure each fundraising event has as big an impact as possible. The goal is for each event to raise a minimum of $10,000 for the hospital, with funds helping world-renowned doctors, top nurses and brilliant researchers engage in the ongoing fight against childhood illness.

We sat down with Simon, Jon and David to learn more about what it takes to successfully throw a fundraiser of this magnitude and to clear up misconceptions about the “greedy” millennial stereotype.

What inspired you to create the event theme (i.e. a breakfast networking event)?


Jonathan Tong
: When we came up with the idea, we were trying to do something unique. We wanted it to be easy to attend and easily accessible from a price standpoint but also in terms of when we held it (which is why we scheduled it in the morning). We also started planning the event around the concept of keeping it as informal as possible… It can be intimidating as a young professional to approach your heroes at events, but a lot of them are happy to participate and share ideas.

Simon Leith: This inspired us to structure the event to give attendees easy access to these mentors and business leaders that would help break down barriers. When you layer on top of it that it’s raising money for SickKids, the event becomes that much more meaningful for everyone.

What sets your charity event apart from others taking place in Toronto?

David Leith: A lot of other events that young professionals go to are the cocktail parties where you stand around a room maybe network with a small group of people. One of the things we tried to do is provide direct face time with our Champions. If you look around the room, it’s not every day that you come face to face with powerful CEOs, politicians, athletes or celebrities all in one place. Each Champion gets seated at a table with up to ten young professionals, and you get a fifty-minute intimate breakfast with them in which you have the chance to ask any questions that come to mind. We have found that that is a unique aspect to the event.

How did you hear about SickKids activators? What drew you to it?

Jonathan Tong: What drew us to the idea initially was connecting like-minded young professionals who were starting out in their career who also wanted to help out and give back to their community. We realized that our demographic may not be able to write a big cheque at this point in their careers but that they did have the tenacity to raise money through other means, like sweat equity. SickKids Activators truly believe that there are many ways to give and donating our time and energy for something truly great can be very impactful.

How have you benefited from the mentorship from SickKids Foundation professionals and the professional and social networking opportunities that come with being a SickKids Activator?

Jonathan Tong: It gave us an opportunity to flex muscles that we hadn’t been using a lot since we entered the workforce. It’s also helped us work on developing skills that are not necessarily directly tied to what we do every day, but certainly, ones that have helped us grow in what we do. Part of the program we value most in terms of mentorship, is getting to work closely with experienced relationship managers at SickKids Foundation who provide insight and guidance every step of the way. We have also received the opportunity, through Activators, to attend educational sessions that allow us the opportunity to meet industry professionals from diverse backgrounds to help take our event to the next level.

David Leith: It has made us more well-rounded individuals and provided an opportunity for us to meet with other event organizers to collaborate and share ideas. We have been able to take those ideas and test them out in our event. It’s great to get a perspective on things that we may not have otherwise had.

What do you hope that young professionals take away from your event?

Simon Leith: The event is early on a Friday morning, and these young professionals commit to getting out of bed to be there because they want to. The idea is to inspire those attending and get them thinking about SickKids. We always have a patient ambassador speak, who is often a young child who probably spent a lot of time at SickKids fighting a health battle. This patient is symbolic of a sort of evolution we are hoping to see: You can go from being a patient at SickKids to running a major company someday.

Millennials are often classified as a “selfish” generation. In your experience have you found this to be true or false?

Jonathan Tong: When you are a young professional, it is tough. Coming right out of school, you might have debt or financial commitments. It is not that they are selfish, but more so that they are seeking different platforms and avenues to contribute in their own way depending on their circumstances. One of the goals of our event – and the SickKids Activators program – is to make fundraising accessible and give young professionals an opportunity to help in a way that makes the most sense to them.

Your event has seen great progress raising $600,000 thus far with last year’s breakfast seeing around 350 young professionals attending. When you first came up with the idea, did you anticipate it being so successful?

Simon Leith: Our first year we raised just over $20,000, and we thought that was amazing. When we share the story behind Breakfast of Champions to other young professionals just joining the SickKids Activators program, we say that we started from a small group of friends with the idea of throwing a fundraising event and it took on a life of its own.

David Leith: It was very much a back-of-the-napkin idea. But no, I don’t think in our wildest dreams we would have ever thought that we would be comfortable committing to raise a million dollars for SickKids and helping build their Activators program. It is also a testament to SickKids for supporting us and being believers in what we were doing from day one.

What factors do you think help make your event so successful?

David Leith: Over the years, we have developed a recipe that works. We have found a way to make it something unique and unlike other events that these young professionals get invited to. It is in the morning, which makes it easier to fit into your schedule. We have also been able to build a passionate group of committee members over the past six or seven years and have had tremendous support from SickKids. Each year, new people come and bring unique skill sets that help enhance the event for the next year.

What is your favourite part about being a SickKids Activator?

Jonathan Tong: Though there are many benefits, the big thing is the chance to meet people interested in working together for a cause. It’s a sharing of ideas and everyone does it differently. You’re able to step outside your comfort zone and your usual circles and meet other people, which is great for us not just professionally but also as human beings.

Do you have any advice for young professionals wishing to become a SickKids Activators?

David Leith: The biggest advice we always talk about is never to underestimate what you can accomplish with just a few individuals. If you have an idea and approach some of your friends and they approach their friends, all of a sudden you have a committee, and when you disperse the tasks, suddenly it’s not so daunting. If you are motivated and doing it for the right reasons, you enjoy the entire experience and know that at the end of the day, you’re doing something good for your community.