Focus on neighborhoods

Bank of America foundation supporting local nonprofits, leaders.

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Bank of America Charitable Foundation is increasing its annual giving overall, and focusing on strengthening neighborhoods through support for local nonprofits, and for civic and student leaders.

After giving $110 million combined as a result of its merger with FleetBoston Financial, up from $85 million last year before the merger, the foundation starting in 2005 aims to contribute $1.5 billion over 10 years.

“We are trying to make sure the majority of our dollars are deployed at a local neighborhood level addressing the needs and priorities of local communities,” says Andrew Plepler, president.

To kick off its “Neighborhood Excellence” initiative, the foundation over two years will provide $200,000 each in operating funds to two neighborhood nonprofits in each of 30 selected markets the bank serves.

“Organizations are really starving for that operating support to build their capacity and sustainability,” Plepler says.

Executive directors and their top deputies at all the nonprofits will take part in three leadership-development sessions of three days each.

Provided by Development Training Institute in Baltimore, the sessions will focus on topics ranging from management and financial planning to budgeting and board development.

The foundation also will recognize five “local heroes” in each of the 30 markets who can designate a local nonprofit to receive $5,000, and will select five high school juniors or seniors in each market for both an eight-week paid summer internship with a community-based group, and for a Bank of America mentorship.

“It’s critical to build the next generation of community leaders,” Plepler says. “And recognizing student leaders for work in communities, as well as placing them in internships, are critical to exposing young people to serving their community, and considering doing it in the future.”

To help make sure most of its charitable giving addresses local needs, Plepler says, the foundation places decisions for roughly half its annual giving in the hands of local bank officials.

“We know that our market presidents, our local people on the ground, are best equipped to identify what the needs and priorities are in those communities,” he says.

And to make sure the remainder of its giving has the greatest local impact, the foundation supports organizations such as the Enterprise Foundation, Local Initiatives Support Corp. and Habitat for Humanity International that are national in scope with operations in local communities.

And it sometimes supplements funds approved by its local officials for critical community projects that local giving cannot support on its own, and also earmarks 10 percent to 15 percent of its annual giving for gifts to match giving by employees up to $5,000 each.

In making their grant decisions, he says, the bank asks its local officials to work with local “stakeholders” such as United Way, community foundations and local government to “help identify critical challenges” facing their communities.

And while local bank officials identify local causes to support, typically those providing “direct services addressing the core priorities of a given market,” Plepler says, the foundation also funds “anchor” institutions such as hospitals, cultural entities, and colleges and universities that are critical to a community’s health.

“We believe that healthy neighborhoods are critical to the strength of our country and the strength of our business,” he says.

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