By Todd Cohen
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In February, thousands of Wachovia employees visited 30,000 pre-school and elementary-school classrooms throughout the U.S. and abroad, handing out and reading from a storybook donated by Scholastic Inc.
The Reading First initiative, launched in 1998 by First Union and winner of the 2000 President’s Service Award – awarded by the Points of Light Foundation — represents the first big project to enjoy the combined support of the banking giant formed by the merger of Winston-Salem based Wachovia and Charlotte-based First Union.
That merger, which produced a $330 billion-asset bank – fourth-largest in the U.S. – also has prompted the company to take stock of its philanthropy.
Charlotte-based Wachovia, which combines two banks and more than 80,000 employees that in 2001 contributed more than $80 million to charity, is not likely to change its philanthropic priorities, says Shannon McFayden, the company’s director of community affairs.
But it does aim to boost its philanthropic impact and the services it provides to grantseekers and employees, she says.
Last summer, when the two banks’ philanthropy officers began preparing for the merger, they found their respective priorities were identical — education, economic and community development, and the “quality-of-life” issues of health and human services, and the arts and culture.
But they also found room for improving the way they practiced their philanthropy.
“We would like to become more strategic,” says McFayden, who formerly was director of internal client services for First Union’s human resources division.
Being more strategic, she says, likely will mean more sharply targeting and tracking the support the bank provides to improve education and strengthen neighborhoods, setting formal deadlines and consistent guidelines for grant applications and better using technology to serve grant applicants and employee donors and volunteers.
“We are not doing as much as we want to or believe we should be doing,” McFayden says. “I’m not sure we are focused enough.”
In fact, she says, “the desire to help and the desire to be a responsive community citizen can lead to trying to be all things to all people, and to give all your resources to all who ask.
“And we know that that’s probably not the greatest way for us to have an impact.”
The bank – which offers full-service banking mainly on the East Coast from Connecticut to Florida, and brokerage and mortgage offices throughout the U.S. and other services — will study needs in the communities it serves.
It likely will ask grant applicants to spell out in advance the impact they expect to have, and then will evaluate the actual impact.
And it is developing an online system to handle all grant requests and approvals, as well as employee giving and volunteering.
“We are very much a believer in our commitment to our community,” says McFayden, “honoring that commitment and finding every possible way to enhance that commitment, with our dollars and our leadership and our volunteer time.”