Maybe it is a sign of the 1990s, but our weekly Adviser contest for December, on the question of how your bank handles charitable contributions, received far fewer responses than did our November contest on the issue of the in-bank affair.

Still, as one respondent put it to me on the phone (so there would be no written trail of his views), "Most bank managers either have no formal policy on charity or they give to the groups that flatter their own egos. So why would they tell you about their policy for publication in the American Banker?"

As for our contest, several respondents warned that before charitable contributions are made with corporate funds, management must refer to the corporate charter and look at the broad outline of what the company can and can not do.

So bankers must justify gifts to charities by proving to themselves that this group helps maintain the soundness of the community which in turn provides benefit to the bank serving this region.

Similarly, if a banker goes on a board of a charity, contribution of bank funds can be justified if the board membership allows "networking" that can bring in business otherwise not obtainable.

So, as several respondents indicated, long-range self-interest for the bank must be the key to giving. And if such benefits can not be foreseen, then the charitable contribution should be avoided.

As to how to give legitimate contributions, one banker reminded us that coordination is a must. All too often the same high school class or church visits several branches of the bank, seeking a contribution from each. This must be caught.

In terms of a general strategy for making contributions, a response from J.S. Nelson, chief executive of the First National Bank in Brewton, Ala., was extremely valuable. He writes:

"My bank is located in a community of approximately 10,000 and has $100 million in assets. About nine years ago we established a charitable trust just for this purpose. At the time, we had only local competition but decided to establish the trust for two main reasons. The first was to do something for our community and to truly be charitable. The second was to get established before any statewide entity came in so we would have a competitive advantage by contributing locally rather than sucking money out of the community. We have now built the trust to over $600,000 and have $30,000 to 40,000 a year in income to donate to local causes. The fund is administered by a group of trustees appointed by our board of directors and we have given away about $200,000 over this period from the income generated by the trust to local school systems, YMCA, library, etc.

"We now have that statewide entity in our town and are getting good publicity for our charitable efforts. We plan to continue adding to this trust as long as bank profits allow. But if we were to quit today, we should always have this trust throwing off a large amount of funds for local giving. This has been a huge success."

Similarly, both Robert A. Rupel, president of the eastern division of Harrisburg, Pa.-based Dauphin Deposit Corp., and Charles Hackman, corporate vice president of the National Cooperative Bank in Washington, D.C., stressed coordination of giving through a committee established for the purpose.

Dauphin Deposit's committee, headed by the community relations officer and with representation from retail, trust, and commercial lending, meets monthly to consider requests and then prepares a budget consistent with the bank's funding philosophies. Mr. Hackman said his bank has a committee dedicated to determining which charities to support, and also matches employee contributions.

Our best response this month, though, came from Bill Fanter of Aurora, Ill. He writes about charity from the viewpoint of gifts of time and effort rather than money:

"Too often this topic is centered around money. After all, we are a bank. People should remember that a community bank is there to assist and be active in the community. Donations can come in many shapes and sizes. A community bank may offer to sponsor a food drive and give away a free poinsettia for each can of food brought in and then the bank would donate the food to a local food pantry. Banks can also offer contributions to schools in the form of banking classes and banking at school. The perfect way to grow your customer base is start when they are young, like 8 or 9 years old. This is when the value of money and banking actually mean something. Get them hooked on banking at a young age and they will be with you years to come. These are just a couple of ideas which can be supported by an entire staff or just one; the decision is yours."

And we decided to make Mr. Fanter the December winner of our august award: president for the day of the Schmidlap National Bank.

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