The following article by Lauren Ziegler, Senior Manager of the VMLY&R Foundation, was published by Little Black Book. Click here to read the article on the LBB website.
The VMLY&R Foundation is an employee-led programme that exists to support and celebrate charitable causes that are important to the WPP agency’s employees and their families. Led by Lauren Ziegler, who has been with VMLY&R since June 2012, the Foundation exists as a tangible expression of the agency’s core values.
“By facilitating and amplifying the widest range of charitable efforts - including volunteer service, pro bono work, community leadership roles and financial contributions - we are able to have a positive impact in our immediate communities and beyond,” says Lauren.
VMLY&R’s charitable giving is driven by its employees. In the United States, all full-time employees have the ability to opt-in to be a contributing member of the VMLY&R Foundation through payroll deduction. VMLY&R Foundation members are able to amplify their personal philanthropy through our $2 for $1 Matching Gifts and Grant programmes. “To date, the VMLY&R Foundation has donated nearly $2.5 million in charitable donations to thousands of organisations selected by our employees,” says Lauren. “The majority of our volunteer and pro bono work comes from these personal connections to causes and organisations across the network. We try to remove any guardrails from the programme to allow it to change and evolve with what our employees care about now.”
The Foundation is run out of the United States and some of its initiatives are specific to that market but it has a global reach too. Every VMLY&R global office participates in volunteerism, pro bono work and community leadership. While the financial employee giving programme described above is specific to the US, more and more offices outside the US are developing similar programmes. For example, Scholz & Friends in Germany recently created a way for their team members to direct funds to employee-chosen causes by payroll deduction following the devastating flooding in western Germany and neighbouring countries earlier this past summer.
The opt-in nature of the payroll giving means that employees can join any time throughout their VMLY&R careers. By opting into the programme, an employee unlocks the Matching Gift and Grant financial benefits to support causes they choose. The VMLY&R Foundation Fund is held under tax-exempt 501c3 status, and led by an employee leadership team called the VMLY&R Foundation advisory committee. The committee is comprised of charitable leaders from all of the agency’s US offices representing various departments and levels of tenure at the company.
The Foundation’s efforts culminate each year with the VMLY&R Worldwide Foundation Day, a long-time tradition for the agency, spanning almost three decades. “It is a 24-hour period that typically takes place each September, where all VMLY&R global offices close for normal business hours to volunteer in our local communities,” says Lauren. “Employees choose to volunteer individually, with their families, or opt-in to small group activities organised by their fellow co-workers. It is one of VMLY&R’s most connected days of the year.
“Similar to last year, we needed to evolve the programme to be as safe and approachable as possible,” she adds, referring to this year’s event. “By giving our team members the flexibility and power to choose how and where they volunteer, Foundation Day has been able to impact more causes and communities championed by our employees. This year, we saw employees choose to volunteer remotely through virtual projects with organisations, self-organise team projects with causes of choice, and come together to support more centrally organized community partner efforts.” Here is a full list of VMLY&R’s worldwide activities.
“Foundation Day is meant to celebrate programming that takes place throughout the year,” says Lauren. “Many of the organisations supported that day are local community partners that we volunteer with throughout the year. All US full-time employees have 16 hours of paid community service time available to them to use however they choose. Many times teams volunteer together as a way to bond - which I predict will be even more common as we return to office next year. In addition to volunteerism, the Foundation also organises agency-wide fundraising events on a local, national and global scale to support timely needs - from responding to natural disasters to social justice issues.”
Lauren came to lead the Foundation out of an enjoyment of being a “connector”. The Foundation allows her to play a background role in making meaningful connections between employees and communities. “I enjoy helping to make our employees feel supported,” she says. “With work and life being so closely intertwined now more than ever, I am passionate about making sure VMLY&R can continue to support our employees and their families in a very direct and personal way.”
She sees her role as one primarily consisting of relationship building - both with employees and community organisations. “My day-to-day consists of everything from organising volunteer opportunities, to event logistics, to the administrative work of the Foundation fund itself and beyond,” she says. “I have the privilege to work and collaborate very closely with our DEI practice, HR, Finance and Communications teams as the Foundation is deeply embedded into VMLY&R’s overall employee experience and engagement efforts.
“The small moments are the ones that will always stand out to me,” she adds. “The Foundation can only be successful if it is approachable. When an employee feels comfortable sharing either a personal family situation or a cause closely connected to him or her, those are opportunities to really get to know an employee beyond their day job and make a tangible, personal impact. That could mean facilitating a donation in memory of a loved one, connecting an employee with a community leadership role, to volunteering at an organisation introduced to us by an employee and growing that into a robust partnership, etc.
“The Foundation would not be possible without the Foundation advisory committee and network of local community outreach leaders across the network. I am most proud of the team of passionate people I get the opportunity to work with and learn from near and far!”