A Maine thrift is giving away $100,000 to community groups in the southern part of the state to attract depositors to four new branches.

To mark the grand opening of branches in Bath and Waterville, Gardiner Savings Institution is asking local residents to vote on how much money to give to more than a dozen different organizations. In both communities, the bank will donate $50,000, with the top vote-getter receiving $10,000, the runner-up $5,000, and the remaining groups $2,000 each.

Voting began June 26 at the new branches and is expected to continue through the end of July.

The $275 million-asset thrift - whose home base is midway between Bath and Waterville - has also set aside additional funds to award grants of $250 and $500 to other nonprofit groups in the area and has invited interested parties to submit proposals. The deadline is July 15.

The marketing strategy is designed to draw potential customers and community leaders into the new branch sites to meet bank officials, said Arthur C. Markos, Gardiner's president and chief executive.

"This was a way to generate some lobby traffic and some notoriety, at least get the name out there," Mr. Markos said. "The hardest thing to do is to get someone to walk into a new bank and make someone think they've been there before."

The thrift used similar strategies with new branches in Winthrop two years ago and Augusta four years ago.

"It sets the tone that when you go into a new market area, you're not just going to be taking from the community," Mr. Markos said. "You're giving before you take anything and that's a good image-buildup."

Two of the four branches are start-ups, but the other two were indirectly acquired last month by Gardiner from Bank of Boston in a complex transaction also involving Cleveland-based Keycorp and Atlantic Bancorp, Portland.

As a result, observers say, giving money to worthy causes could be designed to appease customers who might have been confused after their branches changed hands.

"I think it's unusual and I think in the long run will be financially rewarding to the bank," said James Moynihan, senior vice president of Advest Group in Boston, referring to the donations. "I think it creates an enormous amount of good will."

Despite the multiple handoffs of the two acquired branches, Mr. Markos said, customers didn't see any unusual changes in operations.

That's because the staff from the original branches, which were operated by a Bank of Boston Corp. subsidiary, are still working at the locations and the accounts weren't converted until the final transaction was completed.

And Gardiner officials saw little deposit runoff, Mr. Markos said.

"We're very happy with the amount of retention we've had on the branches," Mr. Markos said.

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