Take one look at Marianne Muellerleile and you’ll recognize her. Muellerleile has been an actor for more than 45 years and has a resume that includes plays, musicals, television, feature films, commercials, print and voice overs. She has appeared in movies we’ve all seen and loved like Return to Me, Smokin’ Aces, Memento, Liar Liar, and The Terminator. She is currently voicing “Lucille” on the Disney Jr animated series The Rocketeer as well as appearing in the GEICO “Aunts” campaign.

Muellerleile is hard at work behind-the-scenes, too, trying to make the world a better place. She’s been an active volunteer and supporter since 2003, and has motivated a network of her followers to Fundraise for Heifer to the tune of over $418,000. We talked to her about why she chose us and what she has in the works.

Heifer: When did you first hear about Heifer and what drew you to the organization?

MM: I was on a TV series as a regular and needed to find a worthwhile charity to which we could donate, fulfilling our long-held commitment to tithing. I had asked our wealth manger to send me a list of highly rated charities. Then I saw a segment on OPRAH and thought, “Yes, THAT is the charity we need to support. “Not a handout but a hand up.”

Why did you decide to start volunteering?

My volunteering started in kindergarten when I helped pull out the napping cots. In grade school I was in charge of the milk carton distribution and a bookmobile captain. High school I was on Student Council, Parliamentarian and Evaluation Chair. In college I made my first Red Cross blood donation. That has led to my being 50+ year blood donor.

Volunteering is second nature to me. It is part of my faith tradition and was nurtured at home.

What is interesting about my volunteering for Heifer is that it is the first organization where my passion has grown, the more I learn about it. In the past, I often became disillusioned once I saw the inside workings of an organization. It is just the opposite with Heifer. I am more committed now than when I first simply wrote a check in 2003.

What was your first volunteer gig for Heifer?

My first volunteer effort for Heifer was when I was asked to join the Heifer California Leadership Council. I was very reluctant, as I was no longer on a TV show which meant I could no longer write a big check. I was assured that I was being asked for my creativity and resources, not my ability to donate.

It was a very intriguing offer, as I knew I would learn much more about Heifer, and also understand a great deal more about how to run a successful nonprofit. I would be sitting at the “Big Kids Table.”

What has been your most rewarding experience with Heifer?

I’d have to say visiting Honduras. It was positively extraordinary. We visited 10 projects in seven days. Meeting the Heifer project partners and the communities working with Heifer and of course, the absolute highlight was witnessing a Passing on the Gift ceremony. People bursting with pride at being able to share their bounty with a family bursting with hope and determination.

Of special note was an optional visit I took to the first project Heifer did in Honduras more than 35 years ago. A happy, vibrant community, with a school, cinder block houses and healthy children. Their joyful reception of our Heifer rep reminded me that they were seeing an old friend, someone they loved.

I left Honduras knowing in my bones that Heifer International is the charity I want to support for the rest of my life. And after.

How do you fit Heifer into your busy acting/auditioning schedule?

Well that is the beauty of being an actor and being a volunteer: None of it is full time! I confess to being very well organized and a self-starter. The good nuns taught us never to procrastinate. That has served me well.

Do you give Heifer gifts to friends or coworkers? If so, what’s the reaction?

Most every person I’d give a gift to, has already given a gift to Heifer because I invited them to do so. My friends know of my deep commitment to Heifer as I take every opportunity to tell them about it.

I have more recently come up with a reciprocal donation idea that has worked very well.

When I am asked to buy school candy, donate to a AIDS ride, support a friends pet project, ETC., I tell them I am happy to do so if I can count on them to match my donation with their own one to Heifer.

Then I ask them to tell me how much they want me to donate to their cause knowing they will reciprocate when I send my own annual fundraiser invitation.

Some call us even but most say, sure, and give me an amount.

Have you ever influenced another coworker/actor to give Heifer?

Most definitely. Every May I put on my “Just Stay Home Fundraiser.” It means exactly what you think, write me a check if you don’t want to attend yet another boring fundraiser with long-winded speeches, lousy wine and surf ‘n turf. Oh, and I have a drawing for ten door prizes! My friends are so used to this May invitation they have already budgeted their donation for that month. It works.

Every other Christmas we put on a very large holiday party. We pull out all the stops with valet, catering, flowers and lots of decorations.

In lieu of a hostess gift, I invite people to donate to Heifer through my personal Heifer link https://fundraise.heifer.org/mariannemuellerleile . I even suggest they can bring a cash donation and deposit it in the labeled jar on our entrance hall table. Our friends are happy to skip the bottle of wine or scented candle and donate. It works.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Six years ago I was at a donor event as a volunteer. The donor had invited his friends to form a group of major donors who would be more hands on, as well as write a check.

I joined on the spot.

Our Partners for Change group have been raising money for specific projects ever since.

We visited our Mekong Delta Dairy Development projects in Vietnam. And now are raising money for the Guatemala Green Business Belt Phase I (spice production). I can’t wait until we visit those projects too.

One of the silver linings to the covid 19 pandemic is that my husband and I have had the time to look at our will with fresh eyes.

With the help of the Heifer Foundation we are putting the finishing touches on documents that will establish the Norris-Muellerleile Family Endowment.

I am as excited by this as I was when I first found Heifer. And I am committed to growing that endowment while I am alive as well as after we are gone.

Heifer is my heart.