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Redefining philanthropy: Bank broadens scope of helping others

By: Blake Jordan

There is a buzz about philanthropy these days. At the annual Business for Social Responsibility Conference held last November in New York, major corporations from Nike and Starbucks to Pfizer and Ford talked about how being socially responsible makes good business sense. In addition to Warren Buffet’s billions of dollars in donations, the country’s wealthiest capitalists also are applying their profits to tackle world problems. 

Gone are the days when paternalistic corporations supported the local causes in their headquartered cities — the opera, the arts, museums, education. With the eruption of the global economy, causes tend toward international issues that billionaires not only support but try to cure. Big cash continues to go to big causes. What gets lost in this renaissance of philanthropy is the notion of helping the little guy. 

What Charter One Bank and its parent company, Citizens Financial Group, headquartered in Providence, R.I., discovered from working with thousands of grassroots nonprofit organizations is that donating money isn't the only way to be philanthropic. While generating dedicated funds is critical to a nonprofit’s survival, we need to remember that support in the form of time, expertise, and mentoring are equally as valued.

Champions in Action
At Charter One and Citizens, we learn through our Champions in Action program that local nonprofits are hungry for the additional intellectual capital and business wisdom we can offer. Technical expertise, strategic planning, marketing and advertising know-how and the many other skills available among our employees can often help non-profits establish legitimacy, raise greater awareness of their cause, and inspire them to continue working for the public. If the budget is too tight, look to the available skill sets within your company. All companies — big and small — have something to offer our non-profits. These offerings often have just as great of an impact as monetary donations.

Quarter after quarter, we’ve watched the Champions in Action program prove this point. While Charter One and Citizens provide Champions with $25,000 unrestricted grants, organizations repeatedly say it’s the program’s other support that makes it invaluable. Every quarter, Charter One and Citizens partner with local media to leverage our combined resources and provide local winners with news coverage from the media partner; visibility in our bank branches and on our ATM screens; volunteer support from both companies; and assistance with specialized needs, such as updating an organization’s website.

In Michigan, WXYZ-TV, our local Champions in Action partner and Detroit’s ABC news affiliate, is presently boosting the visibility of Think Detroit PAL through news stories and public-service announcements. Think Detroit PAL is an unsung hero with ambitious goals of serving one in 10 Detroit kids through athletic, academic and leadership development programs. The boost of exposure is helping the organization reach out to more children and families.

Near West Theatre, Cleveland, Ohio

An unexpected benefit of the Champions program has been the strong network that organizations have formed with each other. In Ohio, Near West Theatre, a non-profit organization providing Cleveland youth with after school programming, linked the following quarter’s winner, Magnolia Clubhouse, with a construction expert for pro bono advice on Magnolia Clubhouse’s capital campaign. The organization also received counsel from our media partner and Cleveland FOX affiliate, WJW-TV, which provided expertise for clubhouse members’ daily news broadcast.

Untraditional support
There are a number of additional outstanding, local organizations providing a wide range of social services — from Cleveland’s Shoes and Clothes for Kids organization to Elder Law of Michigan — who have all leveraged the Champions in Action Program’s untraditional support to help raise their organization to the next level of service.

While it is understandable that a number of businesses may not have the funds to give to others, I do believe that Champions in Action demonstrates how every organization has something to offer. 

Consider the trend in corporate social responsibility and commit 1 percent of your profits to be dedicated to one or more of the local nonprofits that could use our assistance. This donation does not necessarily have to be in dollars. Leveraged resources, intellectual capital and business expertise can be quantified, too. 

Get creative with ways in which you can give back to the non-profit organizations that make up your communities. Time, money, expertise, business acumen, web design, donations or help with a mailing are all ways in which we can keep our communities thriving. Giving back to others will lift all businesses — for-profit and nonprofits alike— and that in return helps all of us. 

Blake Jordan is senior vice president and director of corporate giving of Citizens Financial Group, parent of Charter One Bank, a $46 billion bank operating in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.