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Banking on charity – Focus on brand

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By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Bank of America donates more money to charity than any other U.S. financial-services firm, and more than all but a handful of U.S. corporations.

Now it wants to make sure people know about its philanthropy.

“It’s not good enough just to do good,” says Jeff Morgan, executive director of the Bank of America Foundation. “We have to get caught doing good.”

Identifying its business with its philanthropy is critical to help Bank of America achieve its vision of becoming one of the world’s most admired companies, said Morgan, hired in August after serving as director of brand management for Verizon Communications.

In addition to becoming the company that customers, employees and investors turn to, says Morgan, the bank also wants to be the corporate citizen that communities depend on.

To do that, he says, the foundation next year will sharpen its focus, better coordinate its philanthropy and tie it more closely to business, better tell its story and more effectively measure its impact.

The foundation, which this year will contribute about $85 million to charities, nearly half of it to education, plans by the end of the year to target a particular social need – most likely involving education — on which to focus a bigger share of its giving.

To better integrate philanthropy and business, the foundation’s new focus will help shape contributions made at the corporate and regional levels, volunteerism by the bank’s 144,000 employees and business decisions at the bank.

The foundation also is adopting the bank’s new corporate branding theme: “embracing ingenuity.”

“It’s looking for new ways to solve old problems,” Morgan says.

That could range from finding innovative ways to recruit teachers and improve student achievement to encouraging nonprofits to be more efficient, he says.

And to better help people understand what it does, the foundation will revamp its Web site and use the bank’s 4,500 branches in 21 states and the District of Columbia — the biggest customer base among U.S. banks — to talk about its philanthropy.

The branches showed their communication value in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Morgan says, collecting more than $2 million for the New York-based Sept. 11 Fund – donations that the bank matched with $1 million.

The foundation also is assessing its charity, and asking nonprofits it supports to assess theirs. To keep getting funds, for example, nonprofits that receive at least $100,000 or so will need to show what impact they’re having.

As Bank of America works to build its brand in an increasingly competitive industry, Morgan says, its philanthropy will play a critical role.

“As a leader we have to be visible, we need to be leaders in our community,” he says. “It’s important for us to do good, but it’s important for the bank that the community see that the bank is behind this.”

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