Giving Youths with Nothing a Place to Call Home

SOS Children’s Villages president and CEO Boyd McBride is increasing the charity’s profile in Canada while helping less-fortunate children around the world 

Boyd McBride knows firsthand how difficult it is to raise adopted children—he and his wife have two of their own. The SOS Children’s Villages Canada’s president and CEO is a champion of his group’s cause and its mothers, who raise orphaned and abandoned children around the world. The charitable organization started small in Canada, with three employees and a handful of volunteers, and because of that, McBride has grown accustomed to doing anything and everything. Fortunately, SOS in Canada has grown to include 15 full-time staff, and McBride has graduated to a managerial role where he can concentrate on inspiring his staff and expanding the organization’s reach.

Thirteen years ago, SOS Children’s Villages Canada was in tough shape. While the not-for-profit organization today sends more than $200,000 a month overseas to care for guardian-less children, in 2001 finances were at a historic low. That was the year that president and CEO Boyd McBride came aboard, joining the flailing SOS’s meager staff of three.

“We actually owed money to one of our international partners in Europe,” McBride says. “The first two years were all about survival and turnaround.”

McBride experienced sleepless nights and torturous phone calls to his international secretariat, wondering if they would be able to make payroll. But after some words of encouragement from SOS at large, and with a tighter focus on fundraising and increased discipline, McBride and his staff were able to turn the ship around.

After three years of getting the message out about SOS, McBride discovered that Canadians loved the organization’s mission. Today, the organization has provided more than 75,000 orphaned and abandoned children with a safe, loving home under the care of a dedicated mother. Going beyond just food and shelter, SOS provides skills training and community-development opportunities to ensure children learn invaluable self-sufficiency skills. And while SOS builds homes and hires mothers to take care of these children, it’s also what the organization doesn’t do that continues to inspire McBride and his fellow Canadians: there are no shift workers or barracks or mess halls—just family-based care for children.

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“Every day, I learn more about how to do those things well—how to build our brand, how to build support and help more at-risk children more effectively. I’ve had wonderful professional growth during my time here. Growing into the predominantly managerial function has been satisfying for me, but it’s also served the organization well.”

Even after 13 years on the job and numerous successes, McBride still considers SOS a start-up, so he practices what he’s dubbed “management by wandering around.” He’s responsible for leadership and management, and to be the servant leader, he insists it’s not enough to have an open-door policy. Rather, he ensures that the systems and people are in place to advance the goals of the organization, and the most efficient way to accomplish this is by simply asking. “A lot of CEOs will tell you that their doors are open, but most junior employees are afraid to walk through that door,” McBride says. “Instead, you have to meet them on their own terms, in their own office, and demonstrate a real commitment to helping them succeed.”

Beyond management, McBride has cultivated a sincere love of charitable work over the years, having worked for the Red Cross for years. There he learned the power of brand and brand recognition as it relates to charity work. Back in 2006, SOS Children’s Villages was the official charity of the FIFA World Cup in Germany. That helped the organization all over the world, and so to continue that momentum the next year, SOS Canada approached FIFA, proposing that it become the official charitable partner for the U20 World Cup Canada. FIFA agreed. This project was a major turning point for McBride and SOS Canada because it required the not-for-profit to raise $2 million in six weeks—during a time when it hadn’t been able to raise that amount in a whole year. Somehow, the organization pulled it together, and the achievement raised the outfit’s profile.

To further enhance SOS Children’s Villages’ brand in Canada, McBride recruited television personality Mike Holmes into its volunteer ranks. Holmes is, according to Reader’s Digest, Canada’s most trusted celebrity, so when he embraced SOS’s cause, Canadians followed suit. Because of the partnership with Holmes, SOS Children’s Villages has added thousands of partners to a stable that started out with only a few hundred.

By being aggressive and targeting large goals, SOS Children’s Villages has successfully become a household name in Canada. In order to keep that momentum going, the organization is seeking to double the size of its donations in the next five years. To accomplish that exponential growth, SOS Children’s Villages will continue to work with Holmes and continue to grow its sponsorship program in Canada. The rest will come through the expansion in the area of large sum gifts. With the not-for-profit’s increased profile, McBride hopes to obtain substantial donations from individuals who want to have an international element in their philanthropic portfolio.

“There are profound needs around the world,” McBride says. “It’s not enough just to look after your own community.”