It’s a Family Thing: Paul Etherington of motionball for Special Olympics


motionball is a charitable organization founded in Toronto by 3 brothers who were inspired by their fathers own philanthropic success.

The Etherington’s seem to have it in their genes. While still in their 20s, brothers Paul, Sean and Mark set out to create change. Years later, their national motionball events have raised over $5 million for the Special Olympics Canada Foundation. Interestingly enough, their father Brian Etherington is the co-founder of Special Olympics Festival which has been running (ran) for over 30 years. That charity also gave to the Special Olympics Canada Foundation.

motionball gala
motionball gala

I got to chat with Paul Etherington about the success of motionball and what it is like working with so many family members.

What was the first event you through for motionball? How much did it bring in?

Our first ever motionball event took place in March of 2002 in Toronto. It was a 600 person semi-formal Gala event held at The Capitol Theatre that raised just over $57,000!

What changes have you seen since then? Size of venue? Amount raised per event etc.

The Gala event is now Toronto’s largest charity gala for young professionals with a sold out crowd of over 2,800 guests at the Liberty Grand in 2015; netting just over $250,000.

This is however just one of over 20 events we run across Canada – 3 of which are Galas. The rest are predominantly our flagship event which is our Marathon of Sport where teams of 10 participate alongside a Special Olympic athlete over the course of a day competing in 6 different sports throughout the day. It is this event that truly captures our slogan of Educate; Integrate; Celebrate as our participants spend an entire day integrating with the cause itself – that being our Special Olympic athletes.

In terms of average raised per event? We only deal in net numbers and given the fact that we are projecting to donate $1,000,000 net this year to the Special Olympics Canada Foundation it is safe to assume that on average our events net $50,000.

motionball marathon of sport
Marathon of Sport in Toronto – May 23, 2015

What new challenges have come up at your latest level of success?

As the motionball brand grows across Canada we; like any successful organization, have growing pains. Most recently our biggest issue was our staff or the lack of it to be more precise. For too long we had just 1 full time staff member and the rest of us were volunteers. We have taken considerable time over the last 12 months to focus our efforts on building a proper team and currently we have 3 full time employees. And we are already seeing the rewards in terms of better communication with our National Event Directors and Committee members; in terms of the implementation of proper systems and protocols not to mention in terms of net revenue from each event.

What are some hidden challenges one might not expect from running a successful charity?

Of the 40 plus key individuals (Staff; Board; Event Directors) that run our 20 annual motionball events 95% of them are volunteers leading busy lifestyles. These events take a lot of time to plan; prepare for and run. Time that would otherwise have been spent on their business; their family or with friends. If my experience is at all telling it is safe to say that all the families and business partners of our Event Directors and Board members would like some of the energy that we put into these charity events to be directed back into them. We can’t just preach leading a balanced lifestyle – we need to lead it!

What are the perks and problems of working with siblings?

I work with my Mum and Dad and my oldest brother in a family run boutique insurance consultancy firm. I then run motionball with my 2 brothers. I know all about the pros and cons of working alongside siblings. However, as long as you respect one anothers’ input and have varying skill-sets (which we fortunately do) it can be one of the most effective recipes for success as you know you all have one anothers’ backs!

motionball co-founders
Co-Founders Mark, Sean, Paul Etherington

Do you work with your father in any way through his charity? How has he helped/influenced you?

My father has helped raise 10s of millions of dollars for Canadian Charities and back in 2003 he was awarded the Order of Canada. My father is not only my business partner he is one of my best friends, not to mention my greatest mentor. He and my mum are the reason motionball was created. They taught my brothers and I at an early age the importance of giving back to a community that has been good to you. Everything good that I have done in my life was influenced by them. They are incredible people that deserve every recognition that comes their way. I am truly lucky to have them in my life.

Which Canadian cities have been surprising in terms of their success/involvement/Hype etc.

All 12 Canadian cities involved with motionball have been successful and spectacular in their own right. All of their Event Directors have gone far beyond the call of duty. That being said, some of our most recent successes have come from our events in Calgary and Kelowna and we are quickly realizing that they can teach even our Toronto events a thing or two!

What is next after Canada? Anything new to expect at events this year?

There are still a number of cities and communities within Canada that motionball has yet to reach so until we have satisfied this need we aren’t directing our eyes outside of the country.

However, one of motionball’s most exciting initiatives is our yellowcard campaign that is designed to stop the negative and casual use of the R word (RETARD) within Canada’s vocabulary. It is a derogatory word that when used is insulting to not only the 38,000 Canadian Special Olympic athletes; but just as importantly to the 900,000 Canadians living with an intellectual disability.

motionball and the entire Special Olympics Canada community is partnering up with the Canadian Chiefs of Policy this year to make sure this anti-bullying campaign is heard and felt in every community across Canada!



About Joel Levy 2601 Articles
Editor-In-Chief at Toronto Guardian. Photographer and Writer for Toronto Guardian and Joel Levy Photography