Mercantile Bank of Michigan in Grand Rapids lets its community influence its philanthropic work.

The company plans to donate $5,000 each quarter to a charity based on voting conducted through Facebook. It allows the unit of Mercantile Bank Corp., to engage with consumers and identify organizations it could work with in the future, says Michelle Shangraw, the bank's director of retail banking.

"This goes back to our core value of giving back to the community," she says. "The nonprofit world helps so many people. We think it is very important to be a part of that."

Nonprofits submit an application to participate. The $1.4 billion-asset Mercantile narrows the field to 10 entries. The winner is selected through a vote on Facebook.

Each quarter has a different theme. The current quarter emphasizes education; community and economic development is teed up for the next contest. Voting, updated in real time, for the current competition closes Friday. Mercantile will announce the winner Monday.

Interest has grown since the effort was launched last year and voting often comes down to the wire, Shangraw says. (On Thursday morning, GREAAT Schools Inc., which supports charter schools, had a solid lead with roughly 700 votes. The second-place nonprofit, D.A. Blodgett — St. John's, which provides services for children such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, foster care and mentoring, had about 520 votes.)

The nonprofit with the biggest social media presence doesn't always have an advantage, Shangraw said. Some have strategically pushed their cause offline, such as handing out flyers at churches, she adds.

The idea for the competition came in 2012 when the bank celebrated its 15th anniversary, Shangraw says. Mercantile gave away $1,000 a day for 15 days with the winners selected by a vote on social media. The effort's success led to Mercantile to launch the quarterly competition.

Besides charitable giving, Mercantile has other initiatives to help nonprofits. It hosts seminars on topics such as cultivating long-term donors and marketing. Nonprofits can also borrow kiosks from Mercantile that let people take pictures and upload them to Facebook.

"It's another way to partner with people and get that engagement," Shangraw says.

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