Wachovia builds giving into its business

Bank company integrates employee involvement with local and strategic grantmaking.

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Like a growing number of companies, Wachovia has integrated its community-involvement strategy, and tied its philanthropy to its business.

That integrated strategy combines employee giving and volunteering, community grantmaking by local bank offices, and strategic grantmaking that aims to have a big impact by addressing a priority need.

“One of our business objectives is to be the employer of choice and the company of choice for customers and prospects and communities,” says Frank Addison, director of the philanthropy for the Charlotte-based bank company. “We want people to think of us as a company that has the right values, the right business plan and the right solutions.”


With its 2001 merger with crosstown rival First Union, Wachovia took stock of its philanthropic and community strategy as part of a larger examination of its core values, mission and vision, Addison says.

That effort, which included input from employees and community leaders, and benchmarking based on the corporate strategies of industry leaders, developed a “three-legged stool” of philanthropic programs that included employee philanthropy, community philanthropy and “strategic-outcome” philanthropy.

Those programs, Addison says, are designed to accomplish a key business objective.

“We will have deep and extensive community involvement,” he says. “Doing the right thing results in our being healthy and surviving as a company. It’s a double-bottom-line outcome.”


Wachovia offers a range of programs to encourage employee giving and volunteerism.

Each of the company’s 95,000 employees gets four paid hours to volunteer each month, or a total of six days a year, and can roll those hours together and use them for an extended volunteer leave with permission from a supervisor.

The company also provides a volunteer-tracking database that employees are encouraged to use to report their volunteer hours and the organizations where they volunteer.

In 2005, employees volunteered over 650,000 hours.

Wachovia also will contribute up to $4,000 a year in grants to match giving by employees, with up to $3,000 of the match restricted to giving for education causes.

For every 24 hours an employee volunteers at a charity, up to twice a year, the company will contribute $100 to the charity.

Employees also can contribute to a fund that makes grants to other employees who face personal hardship or are the victims of disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

In 2005, that fund made over $440,000 in grants.

And the company supports 32 “Wachovia Volunteers” chapters that promote employee volunteerism.


Based on advice from committees of local business leaders, local Wachovia offices make community grants in four priorities areas, all of which are the same throughout the company.

The two main priorities programs are designed to close the achievement gap for students in kindergarten through high school, and support community-development efforts to provide jobs or neighborhood revitalization in low- and moderate-income areas.

The remaining priorities are to support a broad range of health and human services, and arts and culture for people who are underserved or live in low- and moderate-income areas.

“It’s not just about giving money, but also time and technical advice,” Addison says. “We are experts in community development. We also want to do something that makes communities healthier. The healthier the community, the more customers we serve. Good clients we can help lift to another level.”


In addition to community grants made by its local offices, Wachovia in 2004 launched an effort to be more pro-active in its philanthropy.

Aiming to make a greater impact on education and community development, the two top priorities of its community grantmaking, the bank developed a program to help improve teacher retention.

“It’s the teachers and their retention that can make a difference,” Addison says.

So after studying teacher-retention programs throughout the U.S., the bank developed a program that would invite groups to apply for grants.

After piloting the program in 2004, distributing a total of $3.5 million to 18 groups, Wachovia in 2005 launched an initiative that will give a total of $15 million to 23 groups over three years.

Funding in the second and third years will be based on meeting goals in the previous years.

Grants have gone to a broad range of efforts that focus on teachers directly, or on school leadership teams or parent involvement in the schools.

And in 2007, Wachovia plans to pilot a similar initiative involving community development.

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