Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health hires industry veteran Chris Ide as new president

Non-profit executive brings 15 years’ experience in fundraising, strategic partnerships and business development


Professional fundraiser Chris Ide recalls an impactful conversation he once had with a senior executive of one of the country’s largest companies. She revealed to him that she’d begun her journey toward disclosing her struggles with mental illness after having kept her condition hidden in the workplace for 10 years to avoid career-threatening stigma.

“When people feel stigmatized, they’re unwilling to seek the care and help they need,” explained Ide during an interview to discuss his new leadership roles with The Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health and The Royal, one of Canada’s leading mental health care, teaching and research hospitals.

“I often get asked as a leader in mental health philanthropy: ‘What can I do to help advance the cause?’ The first thing I always say is to invest in mental health research and discoveries and help us accelerate those into care. The second thing I ask everyone to do is to be vulnerable in their mental health leadership.” 

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When Ide asked the senior executive what would have made a difference sooner, she said: role models, and seeing somebody else succeed at work or life while openly talking about their experience with mental illness. 

“She said it was as simple as that,” said Ide. “And while I think a lot has changed, especially over the last 18 months, when it comes to the conversation around philanthropy, the culture of silence around mental illness continues to exist. 

“We can have the best mental health treatments and care; we can have the best workplace mental health solutions, but if our society, including our workplace and our homes, is not understanding and supportive of mental wellness and creating psychologically safe spaces, people won’t reach out for help and they will not prioritize their wellness.”

Ide brings 15 years’ experience in fundraising, strategic partnerships and business development, most recently serving as vice-president of corporate and community partnerships at the fundraising arm of Canada’s largest mental health hospital, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

“When it comes to The Royal, it’s really a world-class leader in mental health research and care, and I just consider myself tremendously lucky to be joining the team.”

The 38-year-old fundraising executive starts his new job as president of The Royal Ottawa Foundation on Sept. 7. He takes over from Cynthia Little, who was the foundation’s interim president and CEO following Mitchell Bellman’s departure in January. Ide also becomes vice-president for brand and marketing for The Royal.

“When it comes to The Royal, it’s really a world-class leader in mental health research and care, and I just consider myself tremendously lucky to be joining the team,” said Ide, who studied biochemistry and molecular biology at Dalhousie University, not far from his mother’s Cape Breton roots. 

“When I was interviewing for the position, I had the opportunity to meet with (The Royal president and CEO) Dr. Joanne Bezzubetz and members of her leadership team. I was completely inspired and taken by their bold but very intentional, achievable and specific vision for the future of mental health research and care. That was a huge motivating factor for me. 

“We were in the midst of a global mental health crisis before the pandemic, and the pandemic has really exacerbated this crisis. I believe that The Royal is well-positioned to help tackle this crisis through their commitment, dedication and leadership, and I want to be part of a team that helps solve it.”

While at the Toronto-based CAMH Foundation, Ide helped to develop and execute the largest comprehensive campaign for mental health in Canada’s history. He conceptualized, got funding for and launched the organization’s Workplace Mental Health Playbook for Business Leaders.

He also led the design and strategy for the recent peer-to-peer Sunrise Challenge, which far exceeded fundraising goals by raising more than $2.5 million from participants, donors and sponsors. In addition, he was personally responsible for leading the management of the largest corporate gifts in Canada’s mental health history: $20 million from TD Bank and $10 million from Bell Canada.

‘Collaborative leader’

“We are thrilled to welcome a strategic, collaborative leader with strengths in both fundraising and team-building,” stated Jane Duchscher, board chair of the Royal Ottawa Foundation, in a release.

“Chris brings extensive experience in business planning, managing corporate partnerships and individual philanthropy, with demonstrated ability to network, cultivate and grow key relationships.” 

Early in his career in mental health fundraising, Ide met with the managing partner of a major law firm at its office on Toronto’s Bay Street.

“I went in thinking we were going to speak about his personal philanthropy, and how he and his team members may be interested in supporting CAMH. I thought it was going to be a very conventional meeting.”

Instead, the business leader brought his entire HR team.

“It was essentially a conversation about, ‘You don’t need to convince me that I should care about mental health. You just need to tell me how do I care about mental health, because we know this is a problem. As a human, I want to do better for my employees, but as a business leader I want to do better for my bottom line. I see these two things as being very connected.’”

While Ide was born and raised in the Toronto suburb of Oakville, he is very familiar with Ottawa through his husband, Nick Carkner, a public school teacher who grew up here. The couple’s wedding rings are together engraved with the words “equity” and “social justice” to reflect their shared belief in diversity and inclusion.

“They’re core values to who we are as people and as a family, and I think I’ve brought that to my work.”

Ide and Carkner have two adopted twin boys, almost five years in age. They also own two dogs, one of which is a golden retriever trained in pet therapy.

“The other, we jokingly say, needs therapy.”

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