Wachovia giving grows

By Todd Cohen

Wachovia and its employees contributed more to charity last year, when the bank also increased its community-development loans and investments, expanded a one-time program that subsidizes mortgage downpayments for low-income people, and introduced free checking accounts for small nonprofits.

Overall giving totaled $104 million, up from $97 million in 2003, with the bank and its foundation contributing $82 million and employees contributing $22 million, up from $77 million and $20 million, respectively, in 2003.

A program that matches employee gifts up to $4,000 to education nonprofits was changed to include matching gifts up to $1,000 for other nonprofits, with the corporate match growing to $6.5 million from $4 million in 2003.

To encourage employee volunteerism, which grew to nearly 600,000 hours from more than 500,000 hours a year earlier, Wachovia in 2004 started letting employees each year apply for up to two grants of $100 each for nonprofits at which they volunteered for 24 hours.

That program resulted in corporate matching grants totaling $148,000.

Wachovia, which since 1989 has let employees use four paid hours a month to volunteer, or the equivalent of six days a year, also increased to 18 from 7 the number of regional chapters of an initiative known as Wachovia Volunteers.

Launched in 2003, the chapters are led by employees and send monthly email messages to employee members that include information about volunteer opportunities.

“The bank is being supportive and recognizing the importance of its employees being involved in the community,” says Greg Carr, Raleigh market president.

Carr, who is spearheading an effort to boost charitable donations and volunteerism by the bank’s roughly 2,000 Triangle employees, says it is encouraging them to track their giving and volunteerism on the company’s internal website.

“There is renewed interest in the value of employees participating in the community,” says Carr, who in February returned from a seven-month tour in Iraq as a company commander of the 528th U.S. Navy.

As part of its merger with Alabama-based SouthTrust Corp., Wachovia last summer increased by $5 million a downpayment-assistance program it created with $1 million in 2002 as part of its merger with First Union.

The program gives up to $1,500 to homebuyers with at least $500 for a downpayment, and up to $3,000 to homebuyers with at least $1,000, including contributions from family members or community groups.

Since November, when the additional funds became available, the program has provided $3.6 million to 1,255 people, including nearly $1 million given to 311 people in North Carolina, where all available funds have been spent.

“Housing serves as the foundation for creating wealth and helping build strong communities,” says Clara Martinez, senior vice president and manager for community development programs for Wachovia.

Community loans and investments to revitalize neighborhoods grew from $20 billion in 2003 to $25 billion last year, when the bank made a pledge to make more than $75 billion in new funds available over five years starting this year in community loans and investments to serve communities affected by the SouthTrust merger.

And the bank, which for years has offered checking accounts for nonprofits that, unlike commercial accounts, pay interest, last year offered free accounts for small nonprofits that handle fewer than 50 transactions a month.

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