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Transformational Philanthropy: The Value of a Corporate Culture of Service

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© Mort Tucker Photography

© Mort Tucker Photography

Special to the Philanthropy Journal

By Margot Copeland

A corporate culture of service is like a rock— it is the sturdy foundation of an organization’s commitment to consumers.

More than that, the best cultures of service are pervasive, driving business results by offering a community more than products. Truly influential organizations develop inspired community-based partnerships for social good, as well as an internal culture that enables talented executives and employees alike to improve communities across the nation. KeyBank logo

Above all else, a corporate culture of service – when properly implemented – is transformative. At KeyBank, “transformational giving” guides our efforts to invest in students and workforces from Maine to Alaska, through both corporate philanthropy and employee volunteerism. Our mission is to support organizations and programs that prepare people for thriving futures, and we have met this mission by investing employee time and corporate-giving in innovative programs that solve community needs. In fact, annually, for the past eight years, the KeyBank Foundation has given approximately $18 million to nonprofit organizations across the nation in the form of philanthropy, corporate contributions and volunteerism. This investment could not come at a more crucial moment for Americans, with less than half (44 percent) expecting their personal finance situation to get better over the next 12 months, according Fannie Mae’s July 2015 National Housing Survey.

More organizations should be looking to implement a culture of service focused on transforming communities for two core reasons: it improves the financial health and wellness of consumers and it deepens existing relationships with customers and stakeholders. This is especially important for banks, which are in the business of financial security. The question, then, is how?  How can your corporation develop and engrain a culture of service that is transformational and impactful on the communities served? I offer three key suggestions:

  1. Embrace community-committed leaders: Forty-six years ago, the KeyBank Foundation was established as the philanthropic arm of KeyBank, and, with its development, a culture of service prevailed and is prominent today. This culture has guided our business strategy, and is clearly driven by our CEO, Beth Mooney. The expectation that all senior leaders at KeyBank celebrate and support a culture of service is ever-present, both on the job and with job candidates. Additionally, by providing resources, including schedule flexibility and corporate matches to personal contributions, KeyBank helps ensure philanthropy and volunteerism are concepts embraced by employees at all levels.
  1. Margot Copeland, KeyBank Foundation CEO, shares time with students from Daniel E. Morgan School at donated computers.

    Margot Copeland, KeyBank Foundation CEO, shares time with students from Daniel E. Morgan School at donated computers.

    Define Transformation: We define service as strategic grant-making and volunteerism that change the fabric and quality of life projection for communities. Specifically, the KeyBank Foundation supports initiatives focused on thriving students and thriving workforces. The grants we make change the quality of life for individuals in measurable ways. Grantee reporting to the Foundation is rigorous and demonstrates social return on philanthropic investment through measurement of program performance. In Syracuse, our support for “Choosing to Thrive”— a workforce training program— helps to provide the tools and resources needed to address societal barriers, including financial literacy education. In fact, 100 individuals will graduate from the program this year, and 70 percent of those graduates will go on to attain employment as a result of the program. At home in Cleveland, we have invested in the future of higher education by granting double the number of scholarships to minority students attending the interprofessional program at Case Western Reserve University’s medical school. And, we have made strides toward improving the graduation rates of approximately 1,100 Cleveland Metropolitan School District students at Cleveland State University. We are a bank, and these are our investments in our communities.
  1. The Team Approach to Community: We do not seek to transform a community alone, nor should we. When seeking to transform a neighborhood or the future of a particular population, we bring together nonprofits, city governments, other corporations, local citizens and our own employees to devise solutions. We have seen some of the most successful projects inspired by our culture and carried out by the combined service of these forces. In Buffalo, we were the first corporation approached to help fund the “Teacher’s Desk” initiative, with KeyBank jumpstarting organizers’ efforts to work with retailers, such as Wal-Mart and Target, to provide free school supplies for inner city teachers desperately in need of resources. On a broader scale, our annual Neighbors Make the Difference Day— which just celebrated its 25th year and has grown into Neighbors Make the Difference EVERY Day— provides KeyBank employees across the nation the chance to volunteer at more than 700 nonprofits from Alaska to Maine. Over the past two years, our community engagement has been recognized by our inclusion on The Civic 50— a ranking of America’s fifty most community-minded companies by the National Conference on Citizenship and Points of Light.

A service of culture is driven by the expectation that leaders and employees are dedicated to more than the bottom line— that means making business decisions based on more just than the numbers. This mantra ensures we build and maintain trusting, long-term relationships with our communities by positioning ourselves as a community resource, rather than simply a bank with a branch in the area. It is crucial that corporations find ways to nurture this kind of community devotion so that consumers don’t just survive— they thrive.


Margot Copeland is the CEO of the KeyBank Foundation. The Foundation’s mission is to support organizations and programs that prepare individuals for thriving futures and is advanced through the two funding priorities of thriving students and a thriving workforce.

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