“Swear By Your Bank, Not At It” is the tagline for Bankwell. This speaks to me on a number of levels, but mostly because it’s funny.
Headquartered in New Canaan, Bankwell is a community bank with eleven locations sprinkled throughout Fairfield County. Like most banks, they invest in their neighborhoods, often sponsoring local events. But they don’t pounce on causes just because they’re hip or teeming with moneyed patrons, and their philanthropy goes way beyond tossing coin at a gala. If they go, they go all in.
Bankwell fosters a culture of social responsibility among its 150+ employees, encouraging them to volunteer in the over 200 local nonprofits and organizations with which they’re involved. AVP/Marketing Manager Lucy French sends out a monthly email listing these opportunities, such as providing and serving dinner to participants of Inspirica’s Early Childhood and Parenting Program.
Lucy, with Bankwell EVP/Chief of Staff Laura Waitz, are the gatekeepers of the Bankwell’s largesse. When considering a proposal, they focus on three things: 1. the organization's view of social responsibility; 2. the long-term relationship and scalability between Bankwell and the organization; 3. how Bankwell employees can volunteer or contribute. Goal #1 is to help their communities, but bonus points if it redounds positively to their personnel. According to Laura, “If you have a shared passion and sense of purpose you’ll be a better employee.”
Laura and Lucy review hundreds of pitches each year from worthy recipients. Though finances are finite, pitching in and helping out is not. “We get asked all the time—we can’t give to every organization,” Laura says, “so [volunteering] is a way to do it. And we do give them a lot of swag as well.”
Here’s the best part: THEY want to help YOU! You don’t have to be a customer, a potential customer, or even a friendly person. If you have a nonprofit event or charity, contact them and convince them to donate time and/or money.
They focus on low- and middle-income business development. So if you want someone to build a shelter for stray turtles or throw a fundraiser for left-handed golfers, you may not be their target market. But if you want to, say, perform a 4-hour rock concert to raise funds for local food banks, give them a shout.
Here’s the process:
Whip up a page or two about your organization or sponsorship opportunity. Make sure to include who you are, what you want to do or are doing, and what you need to start/augment your project. Include information about your charity: its purpose, the reason you’re asking Bankwell, and any salient information about your organization or event.
Then swing by a location and drop off the information, or log onto MyBankwell.com and send it through the “Contact Us” form. The good folks at Bankwell will forward it to the Marketing Department.
In this department, Lucy will consider it. If it’s viable, she’ll bounce it to Laura. If they both like it they’ll schedule a meeting with you and, hopefully, magic will happen.
And magic does happen - lots and lots of it. From hosting mindful meditation at a library to partnering with police in Darien and New Canaan to help stop elder abuse fraud, Bankwell’s wand is as diverse as it is generous. It was tough to select which ones to highlight, but including all of them would tax a typical attention span. So here are three:
Wilton Rocks for Food
The brainchild of Wilton resident and musician/rock enthusiast Andy Schlesinger, Wilton Rocks for Food is now a 60-musician gig that has people “dancing and going crazy” for four hours. Every penny raised from the party, which has grown from $26,000 in 2015 to an estimated $150,000 for his December 1, 2019 jam, is poured into the CT Food Bank and Wilton Social Services.
He approached Bankwell in 2016 for a sponsorship. Not only did Bankwell sign on as a sponsor, but they also advised Andy on how to approach other companies, polish his pitch and understand the process. Then they hooked him up with another corporate sponsor. “They supported a guy like me, a nobody, because they liked the story,” Andy recounts.
But wait, there’s more. Each year Bankwell employees arrive before the concert starts, “They come to the event, bring boxes of hats, give them out, check people in,” Andy says. And, I’m sure, dance and go crazy with everyone else.
Filling in the Blanks
You may know Filling in the Blanks (FITB) from the billboard on I-95. Advertising is one of the ways Bankwell supports Shawnee Knight and Tina Kramer’s - two moms who met as neighbors— an initiative to mitigate childhood hunger.
Since 2013, FITB has provided weekend meal bags to kids who are eligible for free or reduced lunches in public schools. These bags include breakfast for two days, lunch for two days, and four snacks. Last year they distributed bags to 800 children at Fairfield County schools. But that was a small percentage of children who needed to eat; Tina and Shawnee wanted to do more.
One of the biggest obstacles to FITB is distribution. Their truck wasn’t large enough to accommodate the number of needed meal bags; they had simply reached capacity. They required a box truck and found several entities to help underwrite it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.
So they contacted Bankwell. According to Tina, Bankwell “contributed significantly to the purchase and design of the truck. We couldn’t do it without them.” FITB then increased the number of children receiving With the purchase of the new truck, FITB was to increase distribution to 1,600 kids by the end of June 2019. That’s roughly 103,000 bags to kids in 32 schools across Fairfield County.
In addition to the truck and the advertising, Bankwell volunteers help distribute food, pack bags, participate in FITB holiday backpack program and more. Tina says, “We are truly grateful to have a community partner like Bankwell, to stand with us against childhood hunger.”
Pet Adoption Project
Heralded as “Our best savings plan ever!”, Bankwell launched this adoption program three years ago to “create awareness about the many pets in need of homes at animal shelters throughout Fairfield and New Haven counties.”
Local photographer and animal rescue enthusiast Michael Bagley snaps darling, often witty, always gratis, photos of the available pets. Bankwell features these photos and information about the animals in their branches and on their website. A quick perusal of this page made me want to be the happy mother of 17 dogs, cats, and bunnies.
Lynne Gomez, a Bankwell executive assistant and adoptive pet mom, hatched this initiative and spearheads the matching of pets to fellow employees, such as matching Laura with her dog, Gracie. At the first adoption event, Laura recalls thinking, “If we get one pet adopted it would be a success!” Turns out over 90% were adopted.
They pull animals from a number of local shelters. “Ideally we focus on the ones who have been in the facility for a while or who have a disability,” says Laura. Branches become collection sites for donated pet supplies and Bankwell matches donations made through their coin machines.