From launching support groups to building social enterprises, Michelle Quintyn uses her strengths to creatively respond to an evolving Canadian non-profit sector. For her, success starts and continues with an entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for making a difference.
What does it take to launch a career in fundraising and development? For Michelle Quintyn, it didn’t necessarily begin with sitting down and plotting a career path. Instead, it started with discovering her personal values and strengths, then using them to make a difference. Over her career, Michelle has depended on both her entrepreneurial spirit and a genuine passion to change people’s lives.
As the President and CEO of Goodwill Industries, Ontario Great Lakes, Michelle works with a team devoted to helping individuals find their paths to economic prosperity through the power of work. This job involves cultivating partnerships with a growing network of donors who are keen – or willing – to invest in the philosophy of social enterprise. It’s a challenging and rewarding role. But it’s certainly not the path that she imagined for herself as a young adult.
Michelle always wanted to help people. So, after graduating from high school in London, Ontario in the 1980s, she began her studies in nursing at Ryerson University, then attended the University of Toronto to train in occupational therapy. As she tracked through her schooling, Michelle started to take note of the depth of the healthcare system. “I realized that you didn’t have to be at the frontline,” she says. “You could be a doctor, an administrator, a volunteer, anything.”
Around this time, Michelle met a patient named Patrick, a former journalist with early onset Parkinson’s disease. He had lost his job and his marriage, but still had an active mind. Michelle offered to refer him to a support group. When she couldn’t find a nearby group for people living with Parkinson’s, Michelle and Patrick decided to start their own. They created the premise and published an ad in the Pennysaver to invite people to join. Before long, the duo had launched a new regional chapter of the Parkinson Society of Canada.
As the group grew, Michelle and Patrick realized they needed some resources. They recruited a neurologist at the hospital where Michelle worked, and they connected with the national office of the Parkinson Society, but, to their dismay, the organization did not have resources to spare. “Parkinson’s is more common than other diseases, like multiple sclerosis, for instance, but in the 1980s the MS Society was raising substantially more just in Ontario than Parkinson’s across all of Canada,” says Michelle. “It didn’t seem right.”
Michelle knew somebody had to be a “squeaky wheel” and bring more attention to the cause. Empowered by her work with Patrick and the flourishing group, she took on the challenge. Within months, the national board had invited Michelle to help them raise funds. That’s how, in her early 20s, Michelle found herself plunging head first into fundraising.
To learn how to raise money, she began researching the emerging best practices, connecting with academics, associations, and other organizations. As a healthcare professional, Michelle moved into a role at the University of Western Ontario and began tracking academically; however, as her committed volunteer work with the Parkinson Society continued, it prepared her for her next big career move. In 1986, she joined the University Hospital Foundation as its founding Executive Director.
Leading a foundation was another new challenge, she says. “There was a lot of resistance from people who thought we didn’t need a foundation, nor should we ask patients to give. In terms of planning and operations, a few of the downtown Toronto hospital foundations were well ahead of us, and the academic sector was in a different league altogether. It wasn’t easy at first.”
Luckily, many other fundraisers were in the same boat, and it was an exciting time of learning and sharing in Canada’s emerging professional fundraising sector. “The knowledge was always flowing,” says Michelle. “People were always there to help. I learned from some of the best leaders in the industry. It was never about competing. Instead, it was about knowing your case for support.”
After more than a decade developing the foundation to a team of 30 staff and 60,000 donors, Michelle accepted a new challenge to lead the redevelopment of Covent Garden Market in London, Ontario, but it wasn’t long before she found herself resorting to fundraising. At the Market, she came to realize how vastly disproportionate philanthropy can be across the non-profit sector. For instance, she says, the Covent Garden project called for smaller amounts of money, but it was more difficult to raise.
These experiences, along with other volunteer roles over the next few years, fed Michelle’s thoughts about how fundraising could work.
In 2005, Michelle returned to the non-profit sector in a professional role, accepting the top job at Goodwill Industries, Ontario Great Lakes. Here, she and her team applied a different approach to philanthropy – broadening the concept to include social impact investing. They began building an organization that would soon be known for empowering people to lift themselves out of poverty through social enterprise and job skills training.
Thinking creatively about philanthropy and fundraising has proved critical to Goodwill’s success. In a little more than a decade, the Ontario Great Lakes regional Goodwill has become a $25-million social enterprise with 650 employees. It is a relevant, timely, and critical operation.
For this approach to work well, Michelle says it’s important to grow a base of donors who are looking to make a difference when it comes to alleviating poverty. “Unlike education, we don’t have alumni. Unlike healthcare, we don’t have patients and their families. Instead, it’s our job to cultivate the grassroots connection between social impact investors and individuals who want to make change happen.”
The success of Goodwill’s plan, too, is empowering Michelle’s team to do more. With a goal to grow to $65 million in the next five years, the team is now tasked with raising capital to propel this mission.
From the young adult who created a support group from scratch to the CEO of a creative social enterprise, Michelle has used her strengths for both personal and professional growth, and to dare to try different approaches. “Once again, I find myself fundraising,” she says. “This profession has helped me find my path as a leader and entrepreneur. Luckily for me, the payback is not new widgets. It’s seeing people empowered to sustain their futures.”
Michelle Quintyn: Three Things Every New Fundraiser Should Know
- Volunteering is critical. “Gain experience and perspective as a volunteer, not only as a professional,” says Michelle.
- You don’t have to work for big, substantial institutions. “There are plenty of donors who are committed to niche causes, and even others who aren’t even connected to those causes.”
- Believe in the impact. “They’re not donors, they’re investors. If you inspire your donors to believe in the social impact of their gifts, you get the best results. It’s a partnership.”