For $700 million-asset Countybank in Greenwood, S.C., giving back to the community is a long-standing tradition. And while most community banks have programs designed to donate funds to deserving community organizations, Countybank has been doing so nonstop since it founded Countybank Foundation in 1971.
“As a financial institution, we receive many requests for funding, sponsorships and community support,” says Ken Harper, executive vice president and chief banking officer. “Our mission and vision include serving our communities. We saw a need to separate sponsorship opportunities from financial commitments to nonprofit and charitable organizations that we knew would make a significant impact. Our process of committing, approving and allocating funds for this purpose makes the act much more intentional and purposeful.”
What have been some of the keys to success in helping the foundation grow steadily over the decades? According to Harper, Countybank solicits feedback from bankers in the markets it serves to ensure the decisions made are most needed within each community. He notes that what works in one community may not translate across all markets and that sponsorships often serve a dual purpose of gaining programmatic support as well as advertising and promotion.
Providing support though the foundation grants ensures that the bank is in tune with what’s needed for the betterment of its communities. The bank also looks for ways to support organizations and causes that its bank associates are personally involved in.
“We find that the gift has much more meaning if we are actively and personally engaged through associate service, through board leadership or through other means of community involvement,” Harper says.
“The [Countybank Foundation] is a great vehicle that allows us to make decisions that create more lasting and long-term positive change.”
—Ken Harper, Countybank
Countybank’s continued support
Harper believes Countybank’s program of giving has benefits for the bank, too. “We understand that, while employing people and providing for their well-being is important, we also know that our clients have a choice in deciding who they bank with and why,” says Harper. “They have chosen to maintain a relationship with us, and because of this choice, we understand that we not only stand to profit from their commitment to bank local, but that we also have an obligation to do our part in making the communities we serve better.”
Countybank believes that by not making multiyear commitments, it holds both itself and the requesting organizations more accountable when determining the best use of foundation funds. During most years, the community bank budgets roughly $150,000 for its foundation, although economic conditions and bank profitability can have an impact on the total amount it donates each year. In fact, Countybank often donates more than the allocated $150,000.
In terms of the criteria the foundation uses in determining where its funding will go, part of the approval process involves challenging both itself and the requesting organization to show how these dollars can improve lives. Each year, the community bank looks for new opportunities and surveys its leadership and associates for their thoughts on where support is needed the most.
“The foundation is a great vehicle that allows us to make decisions that create more lasting and long-term positive change,” says Harper.
One recent donation of $25,000 from the Countybank Foundation went to Hospice & Palliative Care of the Piedmont, a community nonprofit network of care that provides specialized healthcare for those living with advanced illnesses. The organization offers inpatient hospice care, in-home hospice care and palliative care, as well as bereavement services.
“When children lose someone they care about, it affects their entire life: their nutrition, their sleep, their relationships, their behavior and their schoolwork,” Charlene Kish, CEO of Hospice & Palliative Care of the Piedmont, said in a statement. “With financial support from organizations like Countybank and Greenwood Capital, we are able to provide education and support to both the child and the parents.”
Countybank knows that it can’t say yes to every request for support. As such, when a request is received, considered and approved, the foundation allocates funding decisions intentionally with respect to each community.
“We have found that this process creates an understanding in the community that the foundation is not an easy-access funding opportunity,” says Harper, “but an intentional foundation that requires an organization have a good business model with a high likelihood of success or impact for their intended audience.”