Osler throws down the gauntlet

Osler is a business law firm that consistently ranks as one of Canada's top firms. But that ranking isn't just in terms of their practice, it's also in terms of money raised in their United Way workplace campaign—and they're not shy about it either.

"It's something I take extraordinary pride in," says John Macfarlane, a partner with the firm and the Leadership Chair of Osler's United Way campaign. "We continue year after year to surprise ourselves. We set ourselves a goal that seems ridiculously unattainable and then we not only reach it but surpass it."

Osler has indeed grown their contribution exponentially each year. In 2009, under the leadership of Macfarlane's colleague Wendy Rickey and her team of volunteers, the firm raised $805,000 and once again topped the list of Toronto-based law firms for the ninth year in a row. Nationally, the firm—which also has offices in Calgary, Montreal and Ottawa—has raised $1 million in each of the past three years.

But being at the top of the list of dollars raised isn't the firm's strongest motivation for contributing to United Way. They see their workplace campaign as the most effective means to give back to the community in which they and their clients do business. The breadth and depth of the services provided by United Way community agencies, along with long-term change strategies like building strong neighbourhoods, are particularly appealing to a firm that prides itself on its innovation and scope of practice.

Macfarlane, a Leadership donor himself, feels that Osler's workplace campaign kick-off is a compelling reminder to everyone in the firm of all that United Way offers. Typically Osler welcomes a speaker from one of United Way's community agencies or initiatives and it's their stories that drive the point home.

"I think it strikes a chord in people," says Macfarlane. "They see that their dollars are really ending up in the right spot—you're seeing the effect of your donation, whether that's a dollar a week or at the Leadership level."

The tangible benefits of Osler's partnership with United Way go even further. Their tradition of support has become an attractive proposition to sought-after candidates during the recruiting process. It also plays a role in talent retention, particularly during the workplace campaign.

"It's the single most unifying thing we do as a firm," says Macfarlane. "We're thankful to United Way for giving us that opportunity to build our own brand, our own internal enthusiasm."

Macfarlane hopes that enthusiasm will continue to spread to other law firms in the city, particularly if a healthy competition ensues.

"Law firms are inherently competitive but a part of me would be delighted to be beaten one year. It all ends up in the right spot after all."

Consider the gauntlet thrown.

Osler throws down the gauntlet was a Workplace Campaign Sector Leaders profile in our quarterly newsletter, Community Matters: June 2010.

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