More Than Money
Issue #34

The Art of Giving

Table of Contents

“Personal Stories: A Guiding Mission”

A Conversation with Steve Young

Based on an interview with Mara Peluso

In 1992, I was interviewed for the newly-created position of retail sales manager at Wainwright Bank. In that interview, Bob Glassman and John Plukas, the bank's co-founders, said they would like to influence the banking industry by providing a new model and definition of success. "We would like to contemplate a second bottom line, a noble social experiment, if you will," Bob said.

I had just spent 13 years at a large commercial bank and had barely heard of Wainwright prior to my interview, so I thought they were nuts. But their ideals seemed to match mine, and it was the career opportunity of a lifetime: Help create a retail bank in any manner I saw fit as long as it was profitable and maintained a commitment to social responsibility.

At the time, none of us really knew what form that commitment would take. I am sometimes asked what the implementation plan was and I have to answer: There was none. We developed our social agenda, as we call it, rather organically. We did what felt like the right thing to do.

Yet I would say that because Wainwright has a social mission, giving has been and continues to be strategic for us. I suppose you could say that the art of giving lies in our strategy, which is designed to carry out our mission. All of our activities flow from our mission statement: With a sense of inclusion and diversity that extends from the boardroom to the mailroom, Wainwright Bank & Trust Company resolves to be a leading socially responsible bank committed equally to all its stakeholders -employees, customers, communities, and shareholders.

Our mission statement also describes the role we believe social responsibility can and should play in American corporations. At its heart, "social responsibility" is a concept based on partnerships-among banks, their customers, and the communities we all live and work in. In the typical corporate model, shareholder concerns reign supreme, and in most cases, are the only consideration. We think that's a onedimensional view. We believe it results in diminished benefits to society, while robbing a corporation of many rewards.

The funny thing is that before I started working for Wainwright, I hadn't even heard the term "socially responsible." Yet I was a socially responsible person, because of my personal and political beliefs and actions; I just didn't know it. As the bank has evolved and the mission of social responsibility has come to define so much of who we are, it has increasingly defined who I am as well.

When I describe how our bank's commitment to social responsibility works, I like to break it down into internal and external practices. Internally, we have management practices that have been lauded nationally as among the most progressive in the business world. Externally, we are committed to community development and charitable giving that promotes social justice. I consider both our internal and external practices to be important ways of giving.

Our social justice initiatives come from all areas of the bank, literally; and that phenomenon is directly related to our management practices. One example is a financial empowerment program we offer for inner-city youth. It was originated by Tony Robinson, one of our employees, when he was working part-time in the mailroom. Tony is an African-American ordained minister and one day he stopped by my office and told me, "I can tell what this bank is trying to do. You are trying to reach out to underserved communities, but you aren't really reaching inner-city blacks." I agreed with him and said that we were having a difficult time reaching that population. He offered some ideas and I took them to Bob Glassman, who said, "Sure. Give it a whirl and let's see what happens."

Tony's ideas evolved into a pilot project on which he worked part-time. That work evolved into a full-time job, and now Tony is our community development officer and an assistant vice president. The project has been so successful that the FDIC has come to us and said, "No one else is doing this like you are." Every bank is expected to do financial literacy work in the community, but our program really works, because we are committed to empowering others-including our employees and the community. Tony created both his own job and a highly successful program. We are all empowered to develop in this way because of the attitudes of the people at the top [the current co-chairs and the founders]. That is part of our organization's values.

We also have a lot of fun. (Bob likes to say, "Yes, we are a bank, but we can't take ourselves too seriously.") Our retention rate is higher than the industry standard and we have a whole file drawer full of resumes of people waiting to work here. People are always telling me, "I am happy with my current job, but if you have an opening, let me know, because I want to work for Wainwright. I would move to work for you." People like to work here because of our values and because we try hard to stay aligned with our values. We treat our employees fairly and generously. We encourage diversity. (Currently, more than 22 languages are spoken among our employees.) The average starting teller nationwide gets one week's vacation, but here they get three weeks. We feel that if you treat employees well, then they'll be happy and will treat customers well. And you know what? It works! Instead of mandating, "Smile. Shake customer's hands," we just say, "Come to work and you'll work hard, but you can be yourself and have a little fun." We have 33% fewer employees than most banks our size, so we all wear many hats, but we get paid more and have better benefits, such as flex-time for elder care, child care, and job sharing. All these are ways we give to our employees.

Externally, we have a charitable giving program, which arose from Bob Glassman's belief in sharing. In fact, he has said, "You can't call yourself a millionaire unless you've given away a million dollars." Most banks offer 1% or less of their pre-tax income to charity. (Some offer more and some less, but that is the average.) We pledge 3% of our pre-tax income to our charitable budget each year, but for the past four years, have actually given around 4.5%.

Part of our giving strategy is to support organizations that others may shy away from. Again, it flows from our mission of inclusion and diversity and our commitment to partnership. We support issues of social justice, such as women's rights and HIV/AIDS services, and we tend to lean towards progressive organizations. As a successful, publicly traded company with profits to share, we have the opportunity to provide funding to nonprofit organizations that are addressing the issues we have identified, and in turn, we get their business. So it all flows. It's a partnership.

Because we are known to support the nonprofit community so well, one nonprofit goes to another and says, "Go to Wainwright and start an account. They are so awesome." We can show them that when they make a deposit with us, their money goes into community development lending. They know that by doing that, they are stewarding their money well, and using it to support their own social-service goals. We currently support more than 300 nonprofit clients, which is a lot for a bank our size.

So, for me, the art of giving is about having a mission that drives our strategy, and choosing to give through all that we do in the organization-both internally in the way we treat our employees, and externally, as we give to others. That kind of giving naturally forms partnerships that benefit everybody.

Steven F. Young is a senior vice president at Wainwright Bank & Trust Company and the executive manager of the Consumer Banking Group. Mr. Young is one of the architects of the bank's progressive social agenda, working closely with Wainwright Bank co-founder and co-chairman Robert A. Glassman.


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