Paying 'community dividends' is legacy of Montecito's founder

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Montecito Bank & Trust in Santa Barbara, Calif., does a lot for its employees and community throughout the year.

There are celebrations, like a winter gala and a summer picnic. Holiday ugly-sweater contests and Halloween festivities add levity to the workplace. And Montecito's employees were on the front lines this past winter when devastating wildfires and mudslides hit the community.

All these efforts have helped the bank earn the No. 2 ranking on this year's list of Best Banks to Work For, a jump from No. 23 a year ago.

But the Community Dividends program is perhaps the bank's defining endeavor and has become a Thanksgiving tradition in the local community.

Michael Towbes, founder, owner and former chairman of the $1.4 billion-asset Montecito, started the Community Dividends program in 2003 as a way to give back to local nonprofits. Though Towbes passed away last year, his legacy lives on through both the bank he created and this charitable program that so far has granted $15 million to 184 organizations in the area.

A total of $1 million is awarded annually at a reception held at the Coral Casino in Santa Barbara that has become one of the more anticipated nonprofit events in this California beach community. It's more than just an awards ceremony, it's a chance for nonprofit leaders to socialize with their colleagues, bank employees and other civic leaders, sharing ideas and building bonds within the community.

Recipients include 501c3-designated organizations serving low- and moderate-income individuals and families in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, as well as organizations that focus on the arts, youth and education, social welfare, and the medical and health services sectors.

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It's a legacy that Towbes was surely proud to leave behind: He once said that the charitable program and the bank were both inspired by the same philosophy.

"I felt for many years that the success of the bank really was based on the support of the community and that the best way to recognize that support was to give back to the community," Towbes said in 2017. "So we started this program, Community Dividends. It's a dividend that the bank gives back to the community every year, recognizing the support of the community which really is what allows us to give back."

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