Jumpstart Bank Volunteerism

By Laura E. Rowe

We’ve all seen them, the check-passing, hand-shaking pictures in our local newspapers. Sure, this may be a great way to help non-profit organizations, but if this is the extent of your bank’s community involvement, you MUST read on.

If you, your senior management team, and your staff are not involved in the community in a hands-on manner, your bank is missing out on a valuable, untapped public relations resource.

It doesn’t take a show of hands to know that many banks feel their monetary contributions equal community involvement. However, writing a check or putting your bank name and logo on a donor list are not (I repeat, NOT) considered community involvement.

The simplest way a community bank can distinguish itself from the local competition, including credit unions and mortgage brokers, is by reaching out to the community. This means working side by side with other steadfast volunteers on fundraisers, cookouts, and blood drives, to name a few.

At The Stephenson National Bank & Trust (SNBT) in Marinette, Wisconsin, we are known throughout the region for the annual number of hours our employees volunteer within our communities. This didn’t happen overnight—in fact it has been an ongoing branding mission that began over 15 years ago. We know it’s working too, because many customers have attributed their choice of banks to the fact that we are community-minded.

To help your bank get started, or simply shake things up, here is a simple roadmap to help establish your bank as a “community conscious” bank.

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Start with committed leadership.  Most importantly, a community involvement program needs strong backing from senior management. It cannot be a “do as I say, not as I do” decision made from the top. Instead, leadership needs to absolutely believe in, be committed to, and participate in the effort. To show their dedication, bank leaders should be the first to take action and lead by example. Take for example the SNBT president and CEO—he has led many initiatives in the community. Most notably, he recently donned high-heels and a dress for the local Domestic Abuse Shelter fundraiser “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes.” He not only showed his commitment to the employees, but also brought a greater benefit to the organization as others have tried to break his record-setting dollar amount.

Think strategically. Every bank marketing plan needs community involvement built into it. The emphasis should focus less on the amount of revenue created and more on how effectively the mission of the bank is accomplished. Think of it this way—the expense is not nearly as extravagant as a marketing campaign, but its direct return goes beyond measure.

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Build your brand into it. Your bank brand is priceless; use it to your advantage. Look at your mission statement—can you extend it into an actionable volunteer plan? Is there an organization you can partner with that aligns with your mission? Use these questions as starting points to build a well-positioned program. In time, it will turn into a low-cost branding tool that creates top of mind awareness. One well-chosen advocacy campaign is the ABA annual Habitat for Humanity home build in conjunction with its annual convention. It brings leaders of the banking industry together for some great exposure related to homeownership.

Bring about a change of mindset. Time and time again, the biggest hurdle to becoming more community involved is the perception of volunteer time. Bank leaders may view it as time lost and employees may see it as extra commitment after work hours. Berkshire Bank, in Pittsfield Mass. answers both issues with its “XTEAM” initiative. Here, employees receive paid time off to volunteer during regular business hours at company-supported projects. This year, the bank was closed for an “Xtraordinary Day” where employees performed volunteer services at designated project locations around the communities they serve.

Be generous with praise. A little praise goes a long way in the effort to make volunteering second-nature at your institution. Therefore, take the time to thank, congratulate, and encourage. Implement an award that spotlights employees who excel or include stories in bank-wide communications. At SNBT, we give the annual WINGS (Worthy Individual Noted for Generous Service) award. The recipient is someone who demonstrates a large number of volunteer hours and commitment to local organizations. The winner is announced at our annual staff training and an announcement is sent to the local media. That person’s picture is also hung in the lobby and a donation is made to the non-profit of their choice.

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Attract attention. It’s not a secret that community banking goes beyond checking, savings, and loans. Then why do we hesitate to flaunt our good deeds? Let the community know that you adopted a stretch of highway, post pictures on social media of employees serving food at a shelter, create a hashtag about your service efforts, invite media to photograph when you plant flowers for community beautification projects. In short, do whatever it takes to generate a newsworthy buzz surrounding your volunteer efforts, period.

It won’t be long before you start getting feedback on your community involvement. Then, you’ll discover the immeasurable rewards earned by being a leader in your community. Even though it cannot be quantified into bottom line dollars, it becomes the most enriching program a bank can adopt.

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Use these ideas to jumpstart your program:

  • Try what SNBT does—challenge employees to pledge the number of volunteer hours they will complete next year.
  • Contact local agencies who may need volunteers and send out bank-wide communications with the information.
  • Champion community efforts that align with your goals (e.g. downtown restoration, tourism, housing projects, eldercare).
  • Set goals and give incentives for volunteering.
  • Create a grant program where employees who volunteer can apply for donations to their favorite charities.
  • Establish a matching program where the bank gives charitable donations to organizations based on the number of hours an employee volunteers.
  • IMPORTANT: Take it easy on volunteer requirements; nothing takes the joy out of giving than being forced to “donate” time.

Laura E. Rowe, CFMP, is marketing director at The Stephenson National Bank & Trust in Marinette, Wisc. Email: laura.rowe@snbt.com.

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