Feature article

After 3 Years The Oak Tree Project Seeds Are Starting to Sprout

The 2016 edition of The Oak Tree Project wrapped up last month and can be summed up in three simple words: the best yet.

“We are so very proud of what was accomplished this year,” reflected Will Mactaggart, project lead. “With 20 charities involved, more than 2,000 community nominations and close to $33,000 raised, we exceeded our goal of supporting and inspiring the conversation about the role that volunteers play in our great community.”

The Elliot Group was awarded this years grand prize for its idea to improve the quality of life of residents suffering from dementia through a volunteer-led Music and Memory program. The organization won more than $6,000 in prize money and donations, and all participating charities took home a portion of the other funds raised.

The 2016 Oak Tree Project was the third year that the Mactaggart family has run the unique and highly effective philanthropic program. Their approach to trying something new through their corporate giving started when the family team (which runs a financial advisory business in Guelph) wanted to see if their funds could be used as a tool to leverage other giving AND involve the community in the decision process.


“Just cutting a cheque wasn’t the right fit for us,” commented Mike Hyrn from the Mactaggart family team. “We wanted to build something that we could point to as a new approach to giving that wasn’t just about money.”

Since 2014 more than $80,000 has been donated to Guelph/Wellington charities through the Oak Tree Project. And while the event has grown over the years, the basic premise of the grant program hasn’t changed. At the start of the competition, charities register at the Oak Tree website with a summary about the specific project they would undertake if they won the $5,000 grand prize. Each charity then asks supporters to nominate their idea on the Oak Tree site with a brief story about what the project will do. These stories are collected throughout the project and given back to the charities to use in their own marketing and communications – one of the many non-financial benefits of getting involved in the Oak Tree Project. Since the first Oak Tree in 2014, over 4,000 comments or stories have been captured for Guelph/Wellington charities.

At the end of the nomination period, the five charities with the most community nominations move on to the final round. Each finalist is asked to submit a more detailed plan for their idea that is judged by a group of 10 engaged and knowledgeable community leaders. The charities present their idea at the event finale, where attendees can ‘vote’ for their favorite idea with $5 chips which they buy at the start of the evening and is generously matched by event sponsors. The event winner is chosen that night by combining their ranking of online votes, judges voting and finale event voting.

For the first year of the Oak Tree project, all Guelph/Wellington charities were invited to participate. Year two, the focus was on the impact that the arts have on the social and economic health of the community. This year the challenge was focused on helping non-profits in the Guelph/Wellington community find new and creative ways to engage and support volunteers.

“Picking themes has helped us reach into new corners of the community,” said Doug MacMillan, president of long time sponsor, The Letter M Marketing. “This year in particular our focus on supporting and encouraging volunteers brought out a record number of charities, many of whom partnered together to bring their ideas to life. That Oak Tree is supporting volunteer collaboratives in our community is simply amazing,”

The volunteer theme was of particular interest to the Volunteer Centre of Guelph Wellington, who see the need every day to talk about and encourage volunteering.

“Oak Tree is such a gift to our community, and not just for the financial contribution,“ said Christine Oldfield, executive director. “It is so exciting to know that Oak Tree has encouraged so many local organizations to build or expand their plans to support volunteers.”

The community judges involved in the program agreed. At a judges meeting a few weeks before the finale event, they gathered to compare notes about the five final submissions and talk about the state of volunteering in our community.

“What struck me most was the profound impact that volunteers make on each of the organizations,” said Audrey Jamel Associate Director (Advancement) at University of Guelph “Every finalist recognized that volunteers were not just a ‘nice to have’ but were in fact ‘mission-critical’ to the success of their organization. The Oak Tree project this year was an important amplifier on the profound impact that volunteers play in the health and wellness of our community. “

Monica Mazun is an associate at the Mactaggart office and looked after much of the organizing for Oak Tree 2016. She agreed that the volunteer focus will have long time impact.  “This was my second year helping out with Oak Tree and it was amazing to see how much it has grown. This year was special as I got to look at the 2000 stories submitted in support of all the charities. Reading how much of an impact each charity and its volunteers have opened my eyes to the importance of volunteering as well as the huge role local businesses can play in our community.”

What’s next for The Oak Tree Project? Organizers haven’t yet announced 2017 plans yet, but leave no doubt their ideas will be planting more seeds and inspiring others to get involved.

The Oak Tree Project was established in 2014 by The Mactaggart Family at Richardson GMP to empower Guelph/Wellington charities with funds and stories about their impact. Offering a new approach to corporate social responsibility, The Oak Tree Project demonstrates how philanthropy is changing by engaging communities and strengthening local nonprofits. Over the past three years, more than $80,000 has been distributed to local charities.

Learn more at OakTreeGuelph.ca

For more information, please contact

Will Mactaggart, Director, Wealth Management
c/o The Mactaggart Family, Richardson GMP
193 Woolwich Street Guelph, ON N1H 3V4
519.827.2900 | will.mactaggart@icloud.com