Many banks maintain level of charitable giving to nonprofits despite sour economy
By Jacquelyn Weiner
In recent months, newspapers awash with stories of suffering banks have caused some to wonder whether nonprofits that benefit from bank donations will feel the burn too.
Government funding to nonprofits is being cut just as private lenders are "tightening their belts," said Felicia Mayer, CEO of Family Counseling Services of Greater Miami Inc.
Ms. Mayer said she has already heard of one area bank that plans to cut its donations in half.
"This (upcoming fiscal) year is our big concern," Ms. Mayer said.
However, several area banks plan to maintain giving levels — and some even plan to expand.
"Our (BankAtlantic's) commitment to funding the projects and needs within the community remains stable and remains very important to us," said Jarett Levan, president and CEO of BankAtlantic. "Florida is home to us and it's important to see these communities grow and thrive today and in the future."
Since its 1994 formation, The BankAtlantic Foundation has contributed more than $10 million to the local community, Mr. Levan said.
The foundation provides grants to area nonprofits and educational institutions, such as Broward Community College and Nova Southeastern University.
"Banks play a very important role in the community," Mr. Levan said. "We feel a general feeling of importance to help the community grow."
Regions Bank also plans to continue donations to community organizations at the same levels, although it hasn't decided on its giving goals for the upcoming fiscal year, said Mary Holt, area marketing manager for South Florida.
"I hope something will get fixed with this economy and we can continue," she said. "I don't foresee a change right now."
This year, Regions has donated $175,000 to United Way, a sum that includes employee donations which the bank matched, Ms. Holt said.
And at Bank of America, the plan is to increase charitable donations, said Miami President Gene Schaefer.
Bank of America's new, overall national 10-year goal is to donate $2 billion to nonprofit organizations "engaged in improving the health and vitality of their neighborhoods," according to a press release."
The previous goal, which started in 2004, was $1.5 billion, he said.
One local program of the Bank of America Foundation is its Neighborhood Excellence Initiative. Two local nonprofit organizations are chosen each year and receive from Bank of America $200,000, which is paid out over a two-year period.
The 2007 recipients, named in October, were the Cuban American National Council Inc. and the Overtown Youth Center Inc.
Those deemed Student Leaders and Local Heroes by the Bank of America Foundation also receive funding through the initiative.
"We need a strong community," Mr. Schaefer said. "To create a vibrant place to live, a vibrant business community ... we have a corporate responsibility to help achieve that."
TotalBank also foresees an increase in its charitable donations, said President and CEO Bill Heffernan.
Mr. Heffernan attributed this to the bank's increased strength via its November 2007 acquisition by Grupo Banco Popular Español, Spain's third largest banking group.
"Because of the mode we're in, we will probably be expanding," Mr. Heffernan said.
One bank that has scaled back on philanthropic funding is BankUnited, said Melissa Gracey, senior vice president and director of marketing.
"In the last year we (BankUnited) have trimmed back the total dollar amount of contributions," Ms. Gracey said in an e-mail. "We have continued to support most of the organizations but we have had to be more creative with our dollars."