A Cure for Giving Season Hangover

How a Regional Bank Will Change the World
Jan 18, 2012 11:10 AM ET

Benevity Just BeCause Blog



One of the things that troubles me about the charitable sector is the concept of “giving season” that seems to persist.  From October to December each year, companies are trumpeting their cause efforts, charities are spending their advertising dollars to drive donations, workplace giving programs are ramping up and personal solicitations abound.  And who can blame them?  After all, some 30% of all charitable donations occur in December. 

But in Alberta, Canada, a regional bank is doing something around giving back that no other financial institution has yet done, and their focus is not seasonal but cultural.  ATB Financial has launched V1 of North America’s first ‘banking for good’ site, ATBCares.com, that enables people to give to any cause of their choice, create and issue charitable gift cards redeemable for a donation to any cause, and broadly encourages giving to thousands of causes the bank supports through real-time corporate matching to any registered Alberta charity.

Banking on Opportunity and Challenges
Okay, so maybe a destination giving site isn’t wildly innovative, but for a bank, a site where consumers choose and get access to real-time matching for thousands of causes large and small? You bet it is! 

Banks have always been big on corporate philanthropy. And after the financial crisis of 2008, there’s been more scrutiny and greater expectations of financial institutions to give back and be socially responsible. Banks have an amazing opportunity to make a unique social impact based on sheer numbers and trust. And most of them have what every destination site in the world would love to have: huge critical mass. 

The challenge is, it’s hard for financial institutions to give back in ways that truly involve their clients and communities (read: programs that generate true ROI). Most banks in Canada don’t get too far beyond the United Way and the Red Cross in their customer and employee-facing initiatives (which are of course great causes, but not necessarily for everyone), though they pursue other worthy initiatives as well. But most of it is ‘handing out fish’ to causes the bank chooses, rather than creating and supporting fisherpersons who will give more broadly. That’s where I see this ATB initiative as being different and potentially so powerful. They’re using their budget to incent other people to give more broadly, contributing to a culture of “citizen philanthropists” to borrow Carol Cone’s term, rather than buying into the big cardboard cheque definition of impact.

And I don’t mean to paint all the banks with a broad black brush, because most of them try pretty hard at this stuff. In recent years there have been some notable programs like Chase Community Giving, the American Express Members Project and the Aviva Community Fund (ok, they’re an insurance company, but financial services nonetheless). RBC has done some great stuff with their Blue Water Project, and there are tons of others. But at a grassroots level, few if any are really leveraging the opportunity they have to make an impact on the landscape of social good AND connect with their customers. It’s difficult for them to be able to execute impactful programs across multiple geographies, diverse demographics and strategic causes in an environment that has an increasing appetite for local or even individualized programs and solutions. That’s why a lot of banks will admit that their cause programs aren’t delivering the intended business or social impacts (especially in terms of moving the needle on attracting, retaining and motivating clients) but rather amount to sprinkling a large pot of money over a handful of causes, hoping for brand benefits.

The Future is Bright (er, Good): FIs Can Change the World
I’ve been reading Giving 2.0 by Laura Arrillaga-Andreesen (www.giving2.com) and although she likely doesn’t follow my blog (yet :)), her thesis that our success as a society requires democratizing giving really resonates (in fact we built our company on the premise!). Back to the huge opportunity: what could the future look like for financial institutions?  How can banks use their unique position and do more good? At Benevity, we can’t think of a more logical place to do personal giving than from where people manage their money – online banking (okay, our Spark! employee giving solution is a logical place too, but you get the drift). 

Consider this: what if your online banking experience had giving as integral element? You log into your account and there is a new tab called “Giving Account.” What can you do with it? You can set up one time or recurring donations, see all your tax receipts in one spot and even increase the impact of your donations by taking advantage of matching offers made by or through the bank. The bank can also reward you for behavior, giving you donor dollars that you can use to give to your cause of choice, for things like signing up for a new service or as appreciation for another year of patronage.

To build on this, your giving account could be filled through various means via ongoing interactions with the bank or broader financial group: users can set preferences to round up debit and credit card payments, allocate all or a percentage of loyalty rewards, opt for paperless reporting and receive an incentive reward, volunteer in return for a grant, etc. 

Now you’re ready to distribute your charitable giving dollars. And perhaps you’re compelled to select certain local or national causes because the bank or one of the bank’s customers is matching your donation, effectively leveraging their corporate philanthropic dollars in a way that also creates glue with you.

Pretty compelling, huh? (And this is not as technologically complex as you might think because the integration with the bank’s systems doesn’t necessarily need to be programmatic for all of these things.) 

ATBCares.com: A First for Financial Institutions
ATBCares.com is a great example of innovation in giving back by a bank inspired to engage its clients and community in changing the world.  ATBcares.com is the first financial institution in North America to launch a website that enables people to give to their cause of choice – and rewards support of its corporate causes through matching. It also enables site users to give and redeem charitable gift cards.  And the bank is covering all of the transaction costs…

ATBcares.com is unique because it’s an example of a financial institution that gets giving back: they want to move toward a mode of corporate philanthropy that involves their clients and community at large in citizen philanthropy. Stay tuned for V2…

In 2012, while visions of online Giving Accounts dance in our head, we’re excited about the future of financial institutions to change the world of giving. 

Disclosure: Benevity is the solution provider and software platform powering ATBCares.com