Over the past twenty years, Mathieu Chantelois has played an instrumental role in nonprofit marketing campaigns, served as editor for film magazine Famous Quebec during its transition to Le magazine Cineplex, and started the Green Space Festival, a fundraiser for the LGBT community in Canada. His career began when he appeared on Lofters, Canada’s first reality TV series on Life Network and U8TV. After a year living in a loft with eight other Canadians, Chantelois moved on to create and host talk programs on OUTtv, as well as its predecessor, PrideVision.
Now serving as Vice President of Development and External Affairs for Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada (BGCC), Chantelois is responsible for making sure the organization meets its fundraising targets… and he is no stranger to fund development. His networking skills have led to successful campaigns for a range of charity and nonprofit organizations, such as Pride Toronto, the Toronto Museum of Contemporary Art, the Canadian Foundation for Aids Research, and the 519 Church St Community Centre in Toronto, where he also served as board chair from 2006 to 2009.
Originally from Montreal, Chantelois is a graduate of the journalism program at Ottawa’s Carleton University. He has written for several French and English publications, and has won a number of awards, including the Prix Molson de journalisme en loisir, Ragan’s PR Daily Corporate Social Responsibility Award, Toronto Life’s 50 Most Influential Torontonians in 2015, and Ragan’s PR Daily Best Contest or Giveaway for Kid Food Nation. He has also launched two successful national PSAs for BGCC, Great Futures Start Here in 2014 and Kid of Privilege in 2018.
Prior to transitioning to the nonprofit sector, Chantelois’ worked with Cineplex Media as editor-in-chief and director of publications, as well as with Radio-Canada, TFO, and the Canadian Mental Health Association. While his passion lies in the nonprofit industry, Chantelois still frequently appears on Radio-Canada to speak on politics, culture, and social life.
We sat down with Mathieu to learn more about his career, his community involvement, strategic marketing for the nonprofit sector, and what motivates him to do the work he does.
Tell us a little about what you do with Boys and Girls Clubs?
Mathieu Chantelois: I’m Vice President of Development and External Affairs, which means I’m in charge of fundraising, communications, and marketing. Obviously, I don’t do this alone! I work with an incredible team.
How has your background in journalism helped shape your career in marketing, specifically for nonprofits?
Mathieu Chantelois: I loved being a reporter. It was very much about taking pieces of a puzzle and putting them together in the right way. Not just to tell the news, but to explain what the news meant in a clear and concise way. Accessible, universal. And that unfortunately has become very challenging in an era of fake news and clickbait and rushed stories.
I’ve always been a storyteller, and I’ve always had a desire to tell meaningful stories that can help shape or change the world. The nonprofit sector allows me to do that. A lot of nonprofit leaders are former journalists, and we all want to tell our stories better, more efficiently. I like to think that I bring that ability to Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada.
What drives you to raise up the nonprofits you work with? How do you keep yourself motivated from day to day?
Mathieu Chantelois: I woke up one morning in my 40s and decided that I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life to making the world a better place. It sounds cheesy, but I really meant it. I wanted to feel good about my work. That’s why I made the transition to the nonprofit world, and that’s my motivation. I’m a hard worker. I have big goals. And I want to be part of a movement — thousands and thousands of people trying every day to make a difference.
What are some of the greatest challenges you have overcome in your career and how have they defined you?
Mathieu Chantelois: Until the age of 20, I didn’t speak a word of English. I grew up in a really small town in Quebec called Mascouche where nobody spoke English. When I was a teenager, I suddenly realized that English was the language that everybody else around the world was speaking, and if I didn’t learn it myself, it would be difficult to get ahead.
On a whim, I moved to Australia for a year to force myself to learn English. No one in Australia speaks French, so I knew there would be no shortcuts. The first few months were very challenging. I spent a lot of time alone in my room listening to Oprah, Dr. Phil, and Jerry Springer, repeating every sentence they said. Finally, I summoned up the courage to start talking to strangers … and I never looked back!
At the same time, I’m very proud to be a francophone. I still think in French, I still dream in French — it’s an important part of my identity.
What brought you to Toronto and led to your involvement in so many great local causes?
Mathieu Chantelois: I was working for a newspaper in Montreal and my assignment editor asked me to cover the auditions for a new reality TV show called U8TV: The Lofters—the first Canadian reality show in English. When I arrived at the audition, there was a huge line and the producers refused to talk to me. They were too busy interviewing hundreds of potential participants.
I called my assignment editor and said, “What do you want me to do?” He told me, “Get in line and pretend you’re auditioning for the show — that will be our angle.” So, I waited for hours and hours, learning everything I could about the show. It would be about eight 20-somethings living together in a loft in downtown Toronto, producing their own TV shows while cameras followed them around. I thought to myself “I can produce TV shows. I can do a project like this!” So, after interviewing the producers, I also auditioned. A few months later the phone rang, and the producers told me I was one of 50 finalists. I ended up getting the gig.
What I didn’t realize was that the show allowed fans, or so-called fans, to send me emails. The first one I received said: “I hope that you and your partner die of AIDS.” And for the rest of the year, I was a victim of hate mail from homophobes around the country. But, at the same time, a lot of young gays and lesbians were writing me to say things like: “You’re the only gay person on TV right now. You’re the reason why I know that I’m normal and that I will have a good life. Thank you for the work that you do.”
Without expecting it, I became a role model. And from that day on, I realized that I had to get involved, that I was responsible for my actions. Young people were watching, and they were desperate for role models who could lead the way.
Given your experience, how would you mentor young people wanting to enter the nonprofit sector in marketing?
Mathieu Chantelois: I never turn down a request from a student. We’re all really busy and it’s easy just to say, “I don’t have the time.” But I always try to meet with them, in person or by phone. I see each of these meetings as an opportunity to share my passion for the nonprofit world. I was lucky that a lot of people did the same for me when I was younger, and it literally changed my life. It’s very important for me to do the same for the next generation. You just never know!
You have been instrumental in launching some very large-scale campaigns. What current trends do you see emerging in the industry? By extension, what skills do you think are most necessary for nonprofits in the future?
Mathieu Chantelois: I think nonprofits often have to do a lot more with a lot less. When we do a campaign, we don’t have a million dollars to throw around. So, I think the most important skill is bringing the right people together. Surrounding yourself with a team of passionate people who will go above and beyond to produce the best and most creative campaign possible. When I start working with a team on a campaign, I of course care about their past work, but even more importantly I look for the spark of creativity or passion on their faces. If I don’t see it, I know we’re going to have trouble realizing our shared vision. I need people who are passionate about the vision, the mission, and the values of the organization. People who are willing to think outside the box to produce something bold and ambitious, something that people remember. That’s really the only thing that matters.
If you could offer one piece of advice to budding nonprofit executives, what would it be?
Mathieu Chantelois: “Whether you think you can or you can’t, either way you’re right.” Henry Ford said that. It’s my favourite quote. It’s a simple philosophy — if people believe they have the power to change the world, they will!