Corporate Giving Success Story: VML

Nearly 17 years ago, Deb Sull began her career at VML. Now a Senior Experience Designer at a leading marketing agency headquartered in Kansas City, Deb has been an enthusiastic supporter and member of the VML Foundation since its founding in 2005. VML employees, or “VMLers” as they’re known around the agency, are invited to join the VML Foundation from their very first day on the job, and for many of them, it turns out to be a highlight of their career.

“I’ve been a member of the VML Foundation since its inception,” Deb says. “I served on the advisory board for seven years until I decided to step down to make room for a new VMLer to see behind the scenes of the VML Foundation. It was such an easy choice to join the VML Foundation and the fact that it’s funded by VMLers makes the experience more special.”

VMLers helped give Wonderscope Children’s Museum new energy with an outdoor mural, matching the creativity the organization inspires inside the building

The VML Foundation, established at the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation in 2005, has awarded over $1.8 million in grants to the communities where VMLers live and work. Since 1992, VML has grown to more than 3,000 employees across 33 locations around the world. 

When VMLers report for duty on their first day, they go through an immersive onboarding experience. They receive a $25 Giving Card and an invitation to join the VML Foundation. To join the VML Foundation, VMLers are asked to commit to deducting a minimum of just $5 from each paycheck to fund the Foundation. VML is proud to report that the majority of their employees are members of the VML Foundation.

The VML Foundation serves as an umbrella program that covers multiple giving initiatives including a matching gift program, grantmaking, the Community Leadership Placement program and pro bono work. Giving back is deeply engrained in the culture of VML. Since the agency’s founding in 1982, community involvement has remained in the mindset of the passion and mission of the organization.

Each time a VML Foundation member donates to a 501(c)(3) charity, the VML Foundation not only matches the gift but doubles it, up to $200 annually for each VML Foundation member – resulting in a total contribution of $600 to the nonprofit organization. The VML Foundation also grants money to nonprofit organizations with close ties to VMLers. The Community Foundation is proud to administer both VML Foundation’s matching gift and grant programs. 

“Our mantra is ‘start small.’ We have many long-standing VML traditions that have been around a long time, and each of them has started small,” says John Mulvihill, Executive Director of the VML Foundation. “We listen to employees and try a lot of different things. Some of them stick, and slowly but surely they grow in to big programs and traditions.”

One of VML’s most steadfast and popular traditions is Foundation Month. Each September, VMLers from around the globe focus even more on volunteering and giving back in their communities. The month culminates in VML Worldwide Foundation Day, a full 24 hours dedicated to service. VML offices around the world close for the day and nearly 3,000 VMLers spend their day volunteering. VML celebrates VML Worldwide Foundation Day each September. VMLers pictured here spent the day volunteering at The Children’s Place.

“I have served as a site lead on Foundation Day for many years now,” Deb Sull says. “One of my favorite Foundation Day projects was working with Kansas City Parks and Recreation building bike trails in Kessler Park. We paved 2.5 miles of bike trails that day.”

Giving back goes beyond Foundation Day at VML. Pro bono work allows VMLers to support nonprofits with their best talent: providing creative services to organizations in communities across the country. VMLers are encouraged to support community efforts not only through pro bono work but also through volunteer roles. VMLers in Kansas City can take advantage of the Community Leadership Placement program, a matchmaking service provided by VML that connects employees to community organizations that need volunteers, board members and committee members. This program helps VMLers new to the metro get involved with community. 

“Our client partners see us walking the walk and being stewards in our communities, and in turn they choose to trust us with their cause-oriented marketing,” John Mulvihill says. “This impact on our business is a neat outgrowth of our overall commitment. It’s not why we give back, but it’s a beautiful by-product of our dedication to bettering our communities.”

VML’s corporate giving programs are a win-win for everyone involved – including potential VMLers. 

“More and more, people are demanding that corporate social responsibility aspect in their career,” says Lauren Ziegler, Community Outreach Manager for the VML Foundation. “We put a big focus on the VML Foundation in our hiring process because it’s a great added benefit for candidates and it’s becoming more important as younger people enter the workforce. Many VML Foundation programs are led by younger VMLers who are looking for leadership opportunities or ways to develop their career outside their department.”

For VMLers just beginning their career, the VML Foundation offers an opportunity to get involved and give back from their very first day on the job. And for VMLers like Deb, membership and involvement in the VML Foundation provides a meaningful experience throughout their entire career. The Community Foundation is proud to support the VML Foundation’s commitment to giving back and making a difference.

“John and I are able to focus on all the fun stuff because the Community Foundation is a reliable source that will invest the finds, cut the checks, do the tax letters and all the administrative work on the back end,” Lauren Ziegler says. “This allows our team to focus on the personal outreach and face-to-face opportunities. It’s a huge responsibility to carry – it’s such an investment of our agency and it’s so important that we cultivate an impactful and rewarding experience for each VMLer – with help from the Community Foundation, the VML Foundation allows us to do just that.”

If your company would like to create or expand a corporate giving program, or establish a corporate foundation, visit the corporate services section of our website or contact LaVon Colhour by email or call 816.627.3400.

Community Foundation Content Specialist Ashley Hawkins


Authored by: Ashley Hawkins, Content Specialist