How have you been able to engage employees for outreach efforts on both a local and corporate level?
We have 18 offices in the United States with just over 3,000 employees and over 6,500 employees globally. Every year, we have a Worldwide Foundation Day where employees and their families participate in a day of service. This year has been a little different with COVID restrictions; we’ve had to take a more virtual and self-organized approach compared to past years where we served in large groups together. But, we still managed to keep the tradition!
There are ways we give back throughout the year as well. The VMLY&R Foundation has four key focus areas: pro bono work (which is how we donate our skill set to meaningful causes), general volunteering, financial contributions and support for our employees who serve in community leadership roles outside of normal work hours.
What drives the decision making when it comes to which outreach opportunities you choose to support?
It comes in a lot of different flavors, and is both structured and organic. The most typical way is that employees bring forth organizations that they have a personal connection with and are passionate about. Our employees are really active in the giving piece of the foundation. We have a 501(c)3 that we’re able to use to make grants to various organizations on behalf of our members and employees. We can also extend those partnerships and include them as Foundation Day activities. Sometimes it’s as simple as a group of employees who go on their own to volunteer at a nonprofit, like a food bank, and then that develops into a bigger relationship with the foundation. We always try to leave room so that new organizations can flow in and be well supported. It evolves every year. The cool part for me is that I get to help engage both locally and at a broader level, and get to see firsthand the impact they are making.
Is there one campaign that has been particularly fun for you?
Yes, the Helping Hops Nanobrew Fest. It’s based out of the Kansas City office and supports Hope Lodge and the American Cancer Society. The Lodge offers cancer patients and their families a free, comfortable place to stay while undergoing treatment. The event started small, with just a few employees who were passionate about the cause, but, it’s grown into a popular local event. It raises $5,000+ each year and attracts over 100 attendees.
Another initiative I’m proud of is a special matching gifts campaign we held back in June in partnership with our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion practice. It was open to anyone in the company, and we matched up to $100 in donations to organizations of their choice that met the criteria. It was the first time we had tackled a social justice issue through a matching gifts campaign, and we raised almost $42,000 through that initiative. It was really rewarding to see that come to life.
I understand that your Foundation Day is typically at the end of September. With COVID-19 and all of the restrictions, how were you able to pivot this year?
One thing we have noticed in the midst of the pandemic is that the move to a remote work environment has made employees even more purposeful about finding meaningful ways to engage. It’s been really positive, allowing employees to have even more autonomy and personal connection in the ways they choose to give back. We’ve seen everything from helping with virtual workshops for their child’s class, to going out and cleaning up nearby parks. Another thing we’ve seen is that employees love being able to include their families. We’ve also seen a lot of people taking their skills and reaching out to small businesses and nonprofits to offer their services. A whole group of employees in New York reached out to help small restaurants that had been hit financially. It’s been amazing to watch people activate organically for Foundation Day as we’ve had to pivot and adapt.
Why do you feel it is important for corporations to give back through charitable outreach?
There are so many reasons. I think for me, it’s important to give back to the communities that foster your growth. On the flip side, being able to give back to your community through your workplace is not only satisfying for employees, it’s also a great way for an employer to provide support through career growth and experience.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Over the past six months I’ve noticed a dualism, with corporate responsibility taking on both a hyper-local and a global dimension. It begs the question: How is community outreach evolving, and what will it look like moving forward? That’s something we need to figure out so we can adapt. We have to be cognisant of things like tax laws and how that impacts giving, but at the same time, don’t want that to limit us to our U.S. offices. My next step will be determining how to be connected beyond our U.S. operations and on more of a global scale, while still maintaining our thriving local outreaches.