Investing in communities Culture of giving helps banks connect with customers, retain employees

More than 100 Wells Fargo employees gathered to paint and make repairs as part of the financial institution's Day of Service on Oct. 13 at Weequahic High School in Newark. Additionally, foundations established and maintained by Wells Fargo donated $4.5 million to about 715 nonprofit organizations and schools throughout New Jersey in 2017.-(WELLS FARGO)

To illustrate what the term “charitable giving” means to Wells Fargo, foundations established and maintained by the financial institution donated $4.5 million to about 715 nonprofits and schools in New Jersey during 2017. That bank’s charitable activities aren’t limited to financial help; employees got directly involved in…

To illustrate what the term “charitable giving” means to Wells Fargo, foundations established and maintained by the financial institution donated $4.5 million to about 715 nonprofits and schools in New Jersey during 2017. That bank’s charitable activities aren’t limited to financial help; employees got directly involved in volunteer efforts, pitching in to help organizations like Habitat for Humanity build residences for the homeless and lend a hand with other efforts.

“Banks across the state are very supportive when it comes to investing in communities,” observed John McWeeney, president and CEO of the New Jersey Bankers Association. “Some institutions form their own charitable foundations, and others engage in charitable giving directly through the bank. Many also engage in service efforts, with employees serving on boards of charitable organizations and with volunteer days.”

A variety of approaches

The Bankers Association’s own initiatives include coordinating financial and volunteer activities on behalf of Eva’s Village, a three-block campus in Paterson that addresses basic needs of food and shelter in addition to addiction, mental illness and chronic homelessness.

Earlier this year, more than a dozen banks collectively donated in excess of $30,000 — $5,000 of which came from the Bankers Association — and their employees spent 23 volunteer days working at the campus’ food kitchen and helping with job counseling and other services. “We expect to continue this in 2019,” McWeeney added.

At Wells Fargo, “We work with nonprofits and with communities,” said Wanda Saez, senior vice president, community relations and corporate philanthropy. About where the Wells Fargo Foundation concentrates its efforts, she noted, “we consider an activity’s impact on the local community and how it meets the needs of residents.”

Charitable involvement is also good from a business viewpoint, Saez added. “Our team members are happy to be out in the community — on Oct. 13, for example, more than 100 volunteers turned out for a Day of Service at Weequahic High School in Newark, and the community appreciates it. When communities thrive, our businesses thrive.”

The bank also supports the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation, noted Lois Greco, the foundation’s senior vice president, evaluations. Another initiative, the Wells Fargo Housing Foundation, works to advance sustainable homeownership, drive economic growth and improve communities.

A sampling of service

The 2017 Community Service Award Program, put together by NJBankers, recognizes the many charitable works undertaken by New Jersey’s financial institutions. Here’s just a sample:

Columbia Bank: The institution believes in “an integrated approach to community support.” During 2017, the bank’s corporate philanthropy provided more than $1 million of charitable and community support, while volunteers generated more than 7,500 hours of service.

Lakeland Bank: In 2017, charitable activities included an Annual Scholarship Golf Outing that raised more than $165,000. “Thanks to the success of this outing we will award scholarships to college-bound graduates at 73 high schools and five colleges next year,” the bank said.

Provident Bank: In addition to granting more than $23 million since 2003 through The Provident Bank Foundation, Provident Bank employees have read children’s books to more than 800 preschool and elementary school students at 15 public schools, early learning centers and community child care centers across the bank’s footprint. Other initiatives included employees collecting supplies, including bedding, snacks, water, diapers, personal toiletries items and journals, that were distributed to area shelters.

Investors Bank: The bank and its Investors Foundation have supported a range of causes, including the Camden County College Foundation,1st Cerebral Palsy of New Jersey, the Asbury Park Music Foundation Inc. and Alternatives Inc., which provides comprehensive services to special needs individuals and families.

“The regional foundation was created about 20 years ago and services New Jersey, Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware,” added Greco. “Many staff members are former commercial bankers, and our board includes Wells Fargo employees and members of the local community. We see it as an investment in the communities. Grants we distribute help residents to create 10-year strategic plans for affordable housing, job training, leadership development and other actions that create a sense of identity for a neighborhood while encouraging economic development.”

Not just big banks

Big institutions aren’t the only ones extending a hand. Since its founding in 1985, Atlantic Stewardship Bank has engaged in tithing, or sharing 10 percent of its profits annually, with Christian and other local charities.

“ASB has donated more than $10.1 million since inception,” according to President and CEO Paul Van Ostenbridge. “In 2017, we contributed to about 290 organizations, including schools, hospitals, fire departments and food banks.” Specific philanthropic activities included underwriting a STEM program at the Dawn Treader Christian School in Paterson and donating to The Holland Christian Home, a senior residence in North Haledon.

Each year, bank employees get a paid day off to volunteer, and during what it calls “Stewardship Days,” groups of employees lend a hand by serving at food banks, building housing units with Habitat for Humanity and taking on other projects.

These good deeds also help to cement loyalty to the bank “from these organizations and their supporters,” Ostenbridge added. “Although it’s not a requirement to have a banking relationship with ASB, most of them do. This culture of giving also helps us to attract and retain great employees, since it resonates with many people, particularly millennials.”

The experience of OceanFirst Bank also highlights the intersection of business and charity. Launched in 1902, OceanFirst turbocharged its charitable giving in 1996, following its IPO, when the bank created and endowed the OceanFirst Foundation.

Through the foundation, hundreds of local charities and schools have received more than $35 million in grants for housing, youth development and education, the arts and other causes. A board of directors that includes business and civic leaders meets several times each year to review, select and award grants to eligible organizations.

“About four years ago we started a college scholarship program that has disbursed some $2.2 million to educational institutions including Brookdale Community College, Monmouth University, Rowan University and others,” said OceanFirst President and CEO Christopher Maher.

In addition to partnering with rock star Jon Bon Jovi and financier David Tepper for substantial donations to the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties (now called Fulfill), “recent giving included 25 grants of $10,000 each for K-12 schools in our market area,” he said.

OceanFirst’s giving ties in to its business, added Maher. “Businesses in the areas we serve share similar attributes and outlooks with us. Additionally, banks can play an important role in the economic health of their communities, and the institutions’ own health is tightly connected to the health of the communities.”

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