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The Q&A With Mathieu Chantelois, Vice President Of Development And External Affairs For Boys And Girls Clubs Of Canada

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Mathieu Chantelois has had a fascinating professional career: he’s been a television presenter, a college professor, a magazine editor, a widely published journalist, and a director of communications and marketing. Now, as Vice President of Development and External Affairs for Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada, Chantelois is responsible for raising funds and meeting the organization’s various fundraising targets.

Mathieu Chantelois

Q: You’ve had a varied and remarkable career. How have you used the skills and knowledge you developed as an award-winning journalist and magazine editor in your position as a nonprofit executive?

Mathieu Chantelois: My professional roles all have one thing in common: storytelling. One of my heroes is a man by the name of David Yarnold. He’s the president and CEO of the National Audubon Society, a large nonprofit focused on preserving birds in their local habitat. But he’s also a very accomplished and well-known journalist in the United States and a former Pulitzer Prize-winning editor. He excels at what I find more and more professional communicators are doing: bringing their storytelling skills from journalism to the nonprofit world.

Q: You chose to resign from your last leadership role as Executive Director of Pride Toronto after false and anonymous allegations were brought against you. What happened?

Mathieu Chantelois: This was an extremely difficult time for me. The allegations were unfounded—no one ever officially came forward and charges were never brought against me.

I decided to resign after much consideration of the Black Lives Matter Toronto protest during the Pride Parade. I did not want to distract from the real issues at hand, which included a need for greater diversity and a discussion of police presence in future Pride events. It was time for me to step down and create space for others to lead, rather than shift the focus to what I felt were false debates. My community deserved better than that.

For two years, I had led record-breaking Pride Festivals with over two million attendees, created the first ever Pride Month with 30 days of cultural, human rights, and entertainment programming all over Toronto, and significantly improved Pride Toronto’s finances. I had also welcomed international celebrities to Toronto to lead human rights conversations, such as Ellen Page, George Takei, Pussy Riot, John Waters, Chaz Bono, RuPaul, David Furnish, and UN Equality Champion Celina Jaitly.

I was proud of what I had accomplished, but I was ready to take on new challenges. I still love my Pride community and I wish them all the best.

Q: What would you say is the most important aspect of the work that Boys and Girls Clubs do? What does your organization do to help young people?

Mathieu Chantelois: When school is out, our Clubs are open. That means that early in the morning and after school, during those critical hours when parents are working, as well as on weekends and in the summer, kids across the country have safe places to be. And that makes a huge impact on their well-being. Research shows us that a safe place, with caring mentors and peer-to-peer relationships, can make the difference between a young person who is empowered to become the best adult possible and one who chooses the wrong path.

Q: The new Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada campaign, “Kid of Privilege,” is striking and thought-provoking. How does raising awareness of your organization’s work at a national level help the Clubs change lives at the local level?

Mathieu Chantelois: The “Kid of Privilege” campaign was designed to get the attention of C-suite executives—the leaders of the big corporations sitting high up in their towers on Bay Street. And the politicians in Ottawa, the prime minister’s office and all his cabinet ministers. We wanted the decision makers in Canada to think of us when they were discussing philanthropy and Canadian youth.

At the end of the day, the C-suite are the ones with millions of dollars and the power to decide which charity organizations will benefit. And to get their attention, you need to talk to them on their level. They know they are in a position of privilege. So, we showed them that at our Clubs, kids are given opportunities that those with privilege take for granted. They are in a safe place. They have mentors. They have food when they need it. They get homework help. They are nurtured and celebrated for who they are.

The message was simple and effective: At our Clubs, every kid is a Kid of Privilege. But the message was also edgy enough to make these executives notice us over other charities, and think twice about the work we do.

Q: You’re a noted advocate for issues that affect Canadian youth—what do you think are the most pressing concerns that need to be addressed now and in the future?

Mathieu Chantelois: A lot of work still needs to be done. Here’s an important statistic: one out of every five kids in Canada leaves school every day with no place to go. They risk being unsupervised, unguided, and unsafe. I think we need to implement a national after-school strategy that makes sure young people across the country have safe, supportive environments where they can find everything they need to succeed—and especially those children who need it the most.

Q: Nonprofit organizations sometimes struggle to communicate their messages to the public effectively, but Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada has had a number of high-impact campaigns. What communications and marketing achievements are you most proud of in your role as vice president?

Mathieu Chantelois: I’m proud that our campaigns resonate. It often happens that PSAs (public service announcements) are put out there in the world and nobody listens or cares. But our most recent “Kid of Privilege” PSA was so well-liked that Cineplex Media and many local radio and television stations around the country gave us a lot of pro-bono air time—their support was amazing.

I’m also proud of the work we did with Jennifer Lopez. When she became the spokesperson for Boys and Girls Clubs of America, we were quick to ask her to record some radio messages for Canada. Having Jennifer Lopez as the voice of Boys and Girls Clubs was a big win.

Q: Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada’s Kid Food Nation cookbook, which you helped publish, won a 2018 Content Marketing Award in the nonprofit publication category. How do you think the cookbook celebrates Canada’s rich diversity?

Mathieu Chantelois: Designed for kids aged 7 to 12, Kid Food Nation is a national food skills initiative that helps improve Canadians’ culinary skills and knowledge and encourages healthy eating habits. Once a year, our Kid Food Nation annual recipe contest asks kids to submit healthy, original recipes that represent their culture or their Canadian pride. The 26 winners, representing every province and territory, celebrate with their families at a gala event and have their recipes featured in a professional cookbook that includes food preparation and cooking techniques, information on healthy eating, and a bio and photo of each winner.

I think the recipes really celebrate the power and beauty of our diversity. For example, last year’s cookbook featured baked Arctic char from Iqaluit, Jamaican chicken soup from Toronto, and garlic moose melt from Botwood in Newfoundland & Labrador—the cookbook truly is an exhibition of Canada’s cultural mosaic!

Q: You received a Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management certificate from Harvard Business School. Would you recommend this type of program for those who are looking to enter the nonprofit sector, or for those who are looking to lead change and grow their own nonprofit organizations?

Mathieu Chantelois: Absolutely. It’s the ultimate learning experience: taught by sensational professors and surrounded by 160 nonprofit leaders from around the world. I was constantly inspired. I met some people who quickly became good friends and others who became my personal heroes. Simply put, the experience helped me realize that the nonprofit sector is where I belong and where my real passion lies.

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