It started as the dream of one person, Kay Wolf, FH partner in Orlando. It soon spread like the proverbial wildfire to the firm's offices nationwide. "Let's build a school for children in Cambodia." So we did. The fundraising project began in late August 2012. By the following October it was done—and then some.(more)
Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world: Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. ~Margaret Mead
The story actually began with Bernie Krisher, Newsweek's retired Tokyo Bureau Chief. Born in Germany, Krisher came to the U.S. with his parents shortly before the outbreak of World War II and the Holocaust that resulted in the deaths of six million Jews in Hitler's concentration camps.
While working out of Tokyo in the 1980s, Krisher traveled to Cambodia, where he saw firsthand the shocking aftermath of another mass murder, the deaths of some two million Cambodians at the hands of the terrorist Khmer Rouge regime, which operated during and after the war in neighboring Vietnam.
A country the size of Missouri but with more than twice its population, Cambodia struggled after the period of terror ended (and still is struggling) to get back on its feet and to help its citizens, most under 25, lead healthy and normal lives. Along with the staggering loss of human life, the physical devastation was overwhelming. Among other things, few schools were left standing.
Krisher vowed to take action. In 1993 he founded a nonprofit group now known as World Assistance for Cambodia. So far under its auspices more than 530 schools have been built in Cambodia. Groups in other countries, such as schools—and in our case, a law firm—can fund the construction of a school for a mere $15,000, an amount matched by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank1. If donors wish, they can contribute more for "extras" for the school.
Once built, the school becomes self-sustaining2; the Cambodian government provides the teachers and curriculum. And the best part is that the children have a place to go to learn every day, and prospects for the future. Without that opportunity, particularly in poor rural areas, girls especially are at risk. Many wind up being swept away into southeast Asia's horrific sex trade. Schools can literally save lives.
After learning about all this, FordHarrison's nationwide team kicked into high gear at all levels, starting from the top.
FH managing partner Lash Harrison set the tone with a firmwide announcement to inaugurate the project. He noted it was "in keeping with our firm's commitment to public service and our recent expansion into the international community," as well as with the firm's "new global perspective on client service."
To prime the pump, equity partners not only endorsed the project but agreed that the firm would match all other firm members' gifts, dollar for dollar.
Next, around 70 of the firm's lawyers, from the youngest associates to most senior equity partners, committed to donate an amount equivalent to at least an hour of their billable time. A number contributed several times that amount. As an additional multiplier, a group of eleven equity partners volunteered to match the combined gifts of all other equity partners.
After project instigator Kay Wolf formed a steering committee of representatives of several FH offices, the brainstorming began in earnest, with lawyers and staff alike throwing in fundraising ideas. The enthusiasm was contagious.
FH senior business development manager Andy Berryman organized a pay-to-play football pool, participants in all offices could pick their favorite college and pro teams week by week. As winners and losers accumulated, so did the weekly trash talk, all for a good cause. In other firmwide fundraisers, lawyers and staff could donate specified amounts to enjoy casual Fridays, and staff members could enter a lottery for a paid day off.
Minneapolis associate Brian Cunningham conceived and carried out a firmwide Scrabble tournament. For a $60 entry fee, office teams competed in two rounds via teleconference, not for prizes but for the title "Smartest Office." Inspired by such home town intellectual heavyweights as Elvis Presley and wrestler Jerry Lawler, the Memphis team won.
In addition to firmwide fundraisers, individual offices directed their own fundraising events, geared toward regional tastes. Here is but a sampling:
The Chicago office set up a Swear Jar, to which foul-mouthed locals had to donate a certain amount for each offense. They filled the jar many times over.
In Los Angeles, not surprisingly, a wine tasting event accompanied by an upscale artsy-craftsy auction, drew a crowd and raised $1000. Among other things, the auction featured original works by legal assistants Elsa Lanz (paintings) and Anne Moreno (designer purses) and handmade necklaces donated by Myrium Wunder, a court reporting firm's sales representative.
In sun-loving Florida, Partner Tammie Rattray purchased a $10 raffle ticket for her Tampa legal assistant Dorshae Bradley, who won two nights at the Delray Beach Marriott, donated by Lexis.
Southerners showcased their love of food. Atlanta's administrative coordinator Shannon O'Brien organized cupcake wars, fueled by eight or nine bakers and some eager tasters and judges, donors all. Egged on by office manager Jonnie Huckelberry, Memphis' culinary experts prepared a lunch of chili and all the fixins, served up to hungry building occupants for a mere $5 per meal. Each Monday the Dallas office, led by associate Carolyn Lam, baked cakes and sold slices for $2 each, though some generous Texans ponied up as much as $20 for a piece. People in Jacksonville sold candy bars to everyone who wandered their way. Tampa had a cocktail hour and a luncheon.
Others pitched in spontaneously. Orlando's office manager Jennifer Martinez mentioned the project to her hair stylist, who is from Cambodia. She donated a beautiful basket filled with hair products for a silent auction. Many of you also contributed after a presentation at the FordHarrison Women Leaders Forum.
All these efforts, and many more, paid off in a big way. The firm exceeded its fundraising goal by a factor of almost six: Instead of $15,000, the firm raised more than $85,000! The FordHarrison School has already been built. It's located in a rural village in the Prey Veng province of southeastern Cambodia. And thanks to the overflowing generosity and creativity of the entire FH family, school children in that corner of the world will soon have not only a school, but solar power panels, computers, extra teachers, a garden, sports equipment, wells for clean drinking water, and whatever it takes to provide them with a good education and a promising future.
Four firm representatives plan to travel to Cambodia for the official dedication of the school on January 3, 2013. Among them will be the first dreamer, Kay Wolf.
Congratulations and thanks to all who took part in this project, far too many to name here. Together, we have made a real difference!
1 Unfortunately, the matching funds are no longer available, the current cost to build a school is $45,000.
2 Except for those "extras" that have recurring costs, e.g., teacher salaries, garden supplies.