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From left: president of Canadian Tire Corp. Michael Medline, Ray Ward, CEO of Oxford Properties Group Blake Hutcheson, and CEO of Freshii Matthew Corrin chat during a charity breakfast in Toronto last month.Darren Calabrese/The Globe and Mail

Capitalizing on the opportunity to showcase their potential, Bay Street's young stars are teaming up with high-profile charities to design innovative philanthropic campaigns.

In industries such as investment banking and corporate law, junior staffers are rarely asked to weigh in on business ideas, nor do they attend client meetings. Success in these roles is often associated with a laser-like attention to detail that catches typos in PowerPoint slides and prospectuses at three in the morning.

For young professionals who were heavily involved in student clubs or event planning while they were in school, the lack of leadership opportunities can be frustrating, and especially stifle those who have an entrepreneurial spirit.

To compensate, Bay Street's next generation is turning to philanthropy, a field where they can take almost full control. Over the past few weeks, for instance, teams of young professionals have run highly successful events for the philanthropic arms of the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction, the Hospital for Sick Children and St. Michael's Hospital, all in Toronto.

Young professionals are a crucial demographic for charities. "In a city like Toronto, where we're all fishing from the same pond when it comes to million-dollar gifts, we need to be expanding our networks," said Lori Smith, who served as liason to the young professionals helping CAMH. The people who run the organization's Engage campaign can't necessarily donate $1-million today, Ms. Smith said, "but in ten years, they might be able to."

To lure their friends, who typically range from 25 to 35 years old, young professionals try to tailor their charitable events and campaigns toward things that interest their demographic, such as career networking.

Simon Leith and Jonathan Tong, young corporate lawyers at Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt and Baker & McKenzie, respectively, recently hosted the third annual Breakfast of Champions for Sick Kids. Despite starting at 7:30 a.m. on a Friday morning, roughly 300 young professionals showed up to seize the chance to network with the likes of Canadian Tire Corp.'s president, the head of Holt Renfrew & Co. and the CEO of Oxford Properties Corp. Since its inception, the event has raised close to $164,000 for the hospital.

Organizing the breakfast "is kind of an excuse to exercise muscles that we don't normally use on a day-to-day basis – muscles we haven't really used since undergrad or law school," Mr. Tong said. By putting the event together, he and Mr. Leith have learned how to drum up sponsorships, design websites from scratch and build a social media campaign.

Traditionally, high profile seats on boards at major hospitals and arts organizations have been reserved for veteran deal makers and executives – often because they have access to wealthy donors. The board at Sick Kids' official charity foundation, for instance, includes Fairfax Financial head Prem Watsa and Royal Bank of Canada chair Katie Taylor. By running their own campaigns and events, young professionals are carving out their own niche in the charity world.

Young Bay Streeters' participation isn't limited to single events, either. Sabrina Ceccarelli, corporate counsel at Siemens Canada, emceed the Sick Kids breakfast, but also sits on the board of anti-poverty organization Plan Canada. Before she joined, the average age of the charity's directors was in the 50s.

However, there is a fine line between giving back and turning charitable giving into a way to flaunt status. Wall Street has seen its share of the latter.

Erik Mikkelsen, who has worked in investment banking and private equity in both Canada and the U.S. and now runs a company, has seen charitable giving in New York that raises questions about participants' motivations. At an event in which dates with bachelors and bachelorettes were auctioned off, "there were 21-year-olds bidding $20,000, $30,000 dollars," he said. "I remember thinking, 'This is good, I guess, because it's for a good cause. But this is blatantly showing off."

He was also wary of people getting involved purely for social reasons. As one of the people behind CAMH Engage, Mr. Mikkelsen says that at the outset, "we were very open with everyone we brought out and said, 'This isn't a party planning committee."

Yet when it comes to getting friends and colleagues out to the events, Roxanne Chapman, who runs party planning company Proper Plan, said young professionals court social status in a benign way.

In the Instagram era, she says, people love broadcasting where they are – something older generations may not fully appreciate. "Instead of writing a silent anonymous cheque, people are posting [pics]" from these events, which ultimately raises awareness of the organizations.

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