Donor of the Month: Tony Chapman

By Jackie Black

Tony Chapman is a frequent contributor to mainstream media as the host of Chatter that Matters, and one of the youngest members inducted into the Marketing Hall of Legends. Donating both his time and professional expertise to SKETCH, Chapman acts as a vital advisor to the organization. 

During the month of October, Tony Chapman will MATCH any donation made to SKETCH’s Fall Campaign in support of Black artists, up to a total of $10,000. That means that by donating today, you are DOUBLING the impact you have on the Black leaders of tomorrow. 

In our special Donor of the Month interview, SKETCH’s Resource Development Assistant Jackie Black chats with Tony about why he finds it so important to invest in causes that strengthen the potential of young people.


Jackie Black: How did you hear about SKETCH?

Tony Chapman: I heard about SKETCH through Hayley Hoskins [previous SKETCH employee], as her Dad was a really good partner of ours and he wanted to do an event for SKETCH. As an industry we designed a pair of running shoes, and auctioned them off and painted them- so the creative agency came together. That’s where I met Rudy [SKETCH’s Executive Director], and noticed what they were doing down there. I was so blown away with their dedication and vision.

JB: What was your first impression of the organization?

TC: They just deeply care. They’re authentic because they’ve experienced the lives that they’re trying to change. They believe in human potential. So it wasn’t about the old proverb, “teach him to fish and he’ll fish for a lifetime.” They really saw this as a place for people to feel nurtured, to feel empathy, creative, empowered. All the great words that are in our vocabulary.

JB: Why did you first give to our organization?

TC: I just like to know where the money is going. I’ve been involved with the Boys and Girls Club. I’ve always been attracted to charities where I can see where the dollars are working. It’s important to me. I am a very visual person, it’s important for me to be able to picture what’s going on there because I’ve seen it and experienced it. It’s easier for me to give to something that’s known than unknown.

I also think it’s the smaller charities that really need it. Not that every charity doesn’t need it, but they’re the ones starving for attention. So it was just a natural place.

JB: Why does this cause matter to you?

TC: I think many people in their childhood, young adulthood, had forks in the road and they can take one path or the other. And it wasn’t that black or white. And I think many people at SKETCH went down a path, whether that was their upbringing or lack of it, or lack of security. Why I’m attracted to it is because it’s that happy story of having them find their path in life and pursue it. They don’t have to become the Prime Minister, but feel like they’re in a world where they’ve got purpose, and feel like they are contributing and people are contributing to them. It’s just a great human story.

JB: What are you involved in at SKETCH?

TC: I’ve been involved as an unofficial advisor and mentor to Rudy over the years. I’ve helped her out whenever they wanted some brainstorming. I’ve been involved when they’ve done events, speaking at them, and moderating and hosting them. Hopefully after we get through this, I’ll be involved with them afterwards to support the restart of the Capital Campaign.

JB: In your opinion what is the most important work that SKETCH does?

TC: It builds trust with individuals, who might lack trust in society. And once you’ve got trust, that’s a foundation you can go anywhere with. When you trust something, you’re more open minded and open to learning, contributing, pursuing. You feel more confident to participate. So I think the biggest thing they do is rebuild trust.

JB: If you want, as much or as little, just tell me a little bit about your life and your own upbringing?

TC: I came from a fairly dysfunctional house, in the sense my dad was bipolar and alcoholic. And my mom was a saint. And same with my dad- when he wasn’t consumed by his depression, he was a wonderful guy. That eclectic background, never feeling safe or secure, has always kept my mind open to what’s out there. And y’know how easy it is, and how lucky and fortunate I am, and how unfortunate other people are.

I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life, so I’ve always had to fight the glass with the slingshot. So the underdog has always been a character that’s appealed to me in society, because they can be very resilient and resourceful. So that’s where my philanthropy has been. I’ve always been involved with my daughters’ school. I don’t have the financial capacity to put my name on the side of a hospital, but I do have creative capabilities and a network. So my philanthropy has been the dollars I can afford, combined with the mind I can freely spend. And narrowing my focus more to people like Rudy at SKETCH, because I think that I can have a greater and more positive impact than just going to buy a fancy table at a fancy dinner. That’s not my style of philanthropy. I like what’s very real and grassroots, not trying to change the world but changing one life.

JB: At what point in your career did you seriously get into philanthropy?

TC: I think when I got to the position, fairly early in my entrepreneurial career, where I knew I was going to be fine. I no longer had a fear of losing everything. It made it quite easy for me to start getting involved. And some of them were strategic, like clients that had charity events that you just felt compelled to be a part of. But as I started focusing more, it was more on youth education and youth empowerment. Safe places where people have a chance. So the Boys and Girls Club, SKETCH, Global Citizens Canadian board- they’ve a massive organization. I’ve been a very big part of them since day one in Canada. Again, that’s focusing on global poverty. But I guess it’s always been the disadvantaged, versus the researcher in a new wing or a big capital program at a university. It’s much more about the underdog.

JB: Why do you choose to supplement your involvement with SKETCH beyond financial giving, to include your skillset?

TC: I think I’ll be of much more value to Rudy in that capacity. So if my advice and ideas can help her, if they’re going to go a lot further than what I’m capable of giving financially, then that’s a great marriage. But I think you’ve gotta do both- put your money where your mouth is. So I think if I were just to go and talk to people about SKETCH without donating, I don’t think that would be very fair either.

JB: What do you hope SKETCH will achieve in the future?

TC: I would love Rudy to have peace of mind. That she doesn’t have to worry about where the money is coming from next month, and she can focus her entire attention on where that person is going next month. Where are the people who come to SKETCH going next month? I think she spends an enormous amount of time trying to keep the lights on, and the work is too important down there. That would be my wish.

JB: Why should someone make a donation to SKETCH?

TC: I think when they personalize the individuals that are going there. And realize there’s a chance to give them a new path in life. Help them find and pursue a different path, and make their life a life worth living. When people personalize that, it’s the obvious place to put money into. Because SKETCH is obviously doing that. And that’s the appeal of the organization. 

JB: What other organizations or causes do you support?

TC: Global Citizen, for sure. Probably Global Citizen and SKETCH now, because I’ve tried to narrow down. I spend a lot of time mentoring youth, but not through a charity. Just my personal time, trying to help people who need ideas and advice. In terms of organizations it would be those two. One from a board level, logistically speaking with Citizen. And one much more from a place of, helping Rudy when she needs it.

JB: What motivates you to stay involved?

TC: It’s everything I’ve said- if we can help even one person find and pursue that path in life, and find that purpose and spend the next 30-40 years skipping as opposed to worrying about their next meal- why wouldn’t I?

JB: How do you describe SKETCH to others?

TC: I’ve always used the word sketch in there, because sketching is reimagining life. It’s a place where people can sketch, and then pursue that new picture of life. SKETCH gives people a new picture of who they could be, and helps them realize how they can do it.

JB: Do you have any artists that inspire you? 

TC: My youngest daughter, she does some very creative work. I love the fact she just picks up things, and turns them into different things. She’s very eclectic, very artistic. But my youngest daughter does that, because she has the ability to do that. She makes a good living, she has the time to do that. 

To give the people down there the chance to be artistic, as opposed to worrying about their next meal, is really something.