N.J. banks are partnering with their communities (Sponsored Content: NJ Bankers)

New Jersey community banks are exemplary corporate citizens dedicated to the success of the communities they serve. Banks and their employees, individually and collectively, sponsor and donate to thousands of worthwhile causes each year and volunteer their time and talents to activities that help their communities become and remain vibrant and strong. Whether making financial contributions, sponsoring holiday toy drives, volunteering at local food pantries or teaching financial literacy to young adults, New Jersey’s banks and its employees are actively working hand-in-hand with community partners.

“Banks play an important role in their local communities,” said John McWeeney, CEO and president of the New Jersey Bankers Association. “They serve their communities not only with banking services, but with many other positive things they do, including volunteerism and philanthropy. We feel it is important, from the association’s perspective, to recognize banks that are doing a great job and to help tell their stories to other constituencies and the public.”

Earlier this year, the NJ Bankers Association announced its community service awards. This annual program, started back in 1994, according to McWeeney, recognizes excellence in community service by its member banks, celebrates their charitable work and shares those efforts with representatives of New Jersey’s governing bodies to demonstrate the active role the banking industry plays through civic and charitable activities for the betterment of communities throughout the state.

Entries from the banks include summaries of their charitable and service activities. These entries are then reviewed by a panel of independent judges who determine which banks will receive recognition.

“We present the awards at our annual conference each year, and normally it’s the CEOs who accept these awards. They take great pride in being recognized. It is meaningful to them — a major deal — and they love the recognition. It helps promote the good things they are doing in their communities,” McWeeney said. “We break the awards down by the size of the institutions because we have such a diverse membership base. We have very large banks and very small banks. That way, we can compare apples with apples and give more banks recognition.  All our banks do a nice job. And there is such a variety in the types of things they do and the different organizations they support.  They are all wonderful.”

Banks set their own processes and protocol regarding which causes to support, according to McWeeney. “They solicit input from their employees, and each bank may take a different approach. Some like to help as many organizations as possible. Some like to target certain causes, could be education or the arts. This process builds employee morale. Employees take great pride in working for their bank, knowing that their bank is doing good things in their community, helping to support organizations that mean something to them personally. It is a win-win all around — for the communities, the organizations that receive support and the employees of our banks.”

Thomas Kemly, CEO and president of Columbia Bank, added: “We have a long tradition of giving back to the community. We have some guidelines we follow in who we support. The driving force is a local community organization and the ones that we find to have the most pressing need.”

Columbia Bank forms partnerships with local communities and charitable causes on three distinct levels: through donations, grants and volunteerism. Its philosophy is: As community bankers, we believe in making a difference in people’s lives.

“At Columbia, we get nearly 100% employee participation,” Kemly said. “We ask our employees to take an interest in volunteering and we make the time available for them. We work it into their regular work schedules. Volunteering is different than a normal day in the office and our workers find it very rewarding. It often gives them a different perspective.” Columbia Bank has 650-plus employees and 52 full-service branches.

“Just look at the things being supported. You get the strong indication that it is important to everybody, and the awards are well-deserved recognition, something that our bank and the whole industry is very proud of. Everybody is doing such a great job.”

Thomas Shara is CEO and president of Lakeland Bank headquartered in Oak Ridge, with 52 branches and 700-plus employees.

“I know here at Lakeland we have a long history of giving back to the communities we serve and are proud of our philanthropic support over the last 50 years. This year alone, we’ll provide over $1 million dollars to charitable causes,” he said.

“Who we support has evolved over decades, in our case, and, today, we support pretty much everything in our marketplace. But it’s often a challenge to identify the top needs in a community so in 2018 we created a noncompetitive grant program to help nonprofits offering community-focused initiatives that make a strong and lasting impact on our communities. One of the most important events we host is our scholarship golf outing, which we’ve been running for 46 years. This year, we raised over $225,000 and the money will provide scholarships for seniors at every high school in our footprint as well as scholarships to help a deserving student at about 10 New Jersey colleges. Since inception, we’ve donated over $2 million just from this one activity.”

Lakeland Bank colleagues contributed about 8,000 hours of their own time for service last year. “Our colleagues demonstrate a strong belief in volunteer service,” he added, “so we were pleased to introduce an initiative to give every team member two paid days off to do charitable work. Lakeland has an obligation not only to offer financial services, but also to help make the places where we live healthy, vibrant communities.”

For Magyar Bank, headquartered in New Brunswick with branches throughout Central Jersey, the term “community banking” is both a business strategy and a strategy “to help our communities grow and prosper,” said CEO and President John Fitzgerald. Magyar Bank and its employees are involved in over 100 local nonprofit organizations, “and that’s important to us,” he said, “to have boots on the ground and our people involved in organizations that help our communities. Over the last 10 years, we’ve given over $700,000 in grants in our communities.”

Magyar Bank has a strong history of working with underserved individuals, added Fitzgerald. “We want to bank with those people that might not be the wealthiest. We want to let the community know we’re open for business — for everybody.” One way it accomplishes this is by participating in the Homebuyer’s Dream Program, which helps eligible low- and moderate-income first-time homebuyers achieve the dream of homeownership.

Working with the Federal Home Loan Bank, Magyar will help provide down payment money and a mortgage with the contingency that borrowers come to Magyar Bank and complete a 12-month educational process. “We provide education because, a lot of times, people who have not bought homes before need some financial counseling to prioritize what’s important and what might not be as important when you’re a homeowner.”

Locally, the bank also partners with the Central Jersey Community Development Corp. “They have all the social programs you would expect from a faith-based community development corporation and they’re also revitalizing the area, buying real estate and refurbishing real estate. They, too, are building up the community,” he said. “And the stronger the communities are that we do business in, the better off Magyar Bank is. I think all this illustrates the fact that community banks like Magyar are giving back to communities.”

“Collectively, the work we do as an industry is outstanding,” McWeeney added.

New Jersey banks and their employees volunteer their time, talents, and resources to benefit well-known organizations such as Special Olympics, Habitat for Humanity, Read Across America, March of Dimes, Meals With A Mission, United Way, YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs, Project Graduation, Wounded Warrior Project, autism and cancer research, and local initiatives including community food drives, holiday toy drives, local law enforcement, K9 units, rescue squads, animal shelters, group homes, senior centers, schools, hospitals, group homes and community events including parades, picnics, street fairs, blood drives and other activities that promote affordable housing, health and wellness, human services, the arts, and community and business growth … to mention just a few!

The community service awards are as follow:

Largest National Banks

  1. TD Bank: A large bank with significant support for communities throughout New Jersey and across a wide range of needs.

TD uses the tagline “unexpectedly human” to draw attention to its support for people and communities, rather than just banking customers’ needs. The focus is on being more than a business: A vision of greener corporate buildings and attention to our environment at a local and national level. TD recognizes that environmental sustainability is a vital component of long-term business sustainability.

Employee volunteerism is strong, as is outreach to underserved populations, as evidenced by work with Special Olympics, providing adaptive financial education to the athletes and their families, focusing on skills needed for independent living and employment. TD Bank participation in Project Search addresses economic opportunity development, personal financial stability and a way for students to truly appreciate the value and benefits of employment.

  1. Bank of America: A large national bank with solid support for the people and communities of New Jersey.

In addition to working to develop future leaders through youth/student development programs, there is also an awareness that support for the arts provides not only cultural enrichment for the community but also has an economic impact through employment and revenue generation throughout the community.

Significant bank and employee (volunteer) support for organizations assisting people to lead better financial lives in addition to enhanced access to housing, food and positive environmental change.

Banks with Deposits over $5B

  1. Provident Bank: Continued strong commitment to a wide range of causes in many communities reflecting a bank firmly rooted in New Jersey.

Employee volunteerism is very strong, and both the branches and the foundation make significant contributions to New Jersey.

There is strong support for a very wide variety of organizations and individuals/families, including health care, food and nutrition, youth/education, the arts and support for people with disabilities. Volunteers team with other organizations to provide a wide range of service to underserved communities such as Habitat, Holiday Express, Eva’s Village, etc.

The “Commit to Care” grants, through the Provident Foundation, rely on input/nominations of organizations by bank employees that leads to significant grants to deserving causes.

  1. Investors Bank: Demonstrates strong support for a wide variety of organizations, public services and community strengthening organizations.

This support, while strong with respect to education, financial literacy, housing, health and wellbeing and other needs to keep communities strong, is also solid with respect to cultural and environmental protection, helping underscore the importance of community enrichment and sustainability. The Wavemakers Program at OceanFirst Bank is of significant benefit to the communities the bank serves and enthusiastically received by bank employees.

Banks with Deposits between $2B and $5B

  1. Peapack-Gladstone Bank: Continually has a clear message of what they support, particularly with respect to food and shelter insecurity, and support for veterans in need.

Significant employee participation and impact, evidenced by another New Jersey Champion of Good Works Award.

Demonstrates a commitment to the well-being of bank employees through support of a variety of health and wellness programs.

  1. Kearny Bank: Significant support for a wide variety of causes and community service organizations by employees, primarily through volunteerism.

The bank foundation actively supports diverse organizations, community/public resources and causes. Support for theater and historical societies is coupled with significant impacts on organizations such as first responders and Habitat supplemented by assisting personal growth of individuals from preschool through seniors.

Banks with Deposits Between $1B and $2B

  1. Boiling Springs Savings Bank: Community outreach with Coffee with a Cop, and support for food pantries, various community centers and support for bankers in North and South Carolina affected by Hurricane Florence.

A focus on health and wellness as shown by contributions for Chiltern Medical Center ER renovations and day programs for people with disabilities.

Support for community growth and sustainability through introduction of ever-Fi in community schools which assists youth with all aspects of financial literacy.

  1. Manasquan Bank: Significant recognition for community support, as evidenced by receiving a 2018 Humanitarian of the Year and Financial Capability Innovation Award.

The bank invests in the future of its communities through support for youth (Big Brother/Big Sister, EVERFI and school-based activities associated with Financial Literacy month), as well as support for the people in need via Eva’s Village, Tools for Schools and an annual toy drive.

Banks with Deposits Between $500M and $999M

  1. 1st Constitution Bank: Strong community presence and support — from board members through branch employees.

Support for a variety of health and medical needs/institutions, as well as schools, scholarships and students of ages using traditional information sources such as libraries.

Solid support for not-for-profit organizations including Special Olympics.

  1. Two River Community Bank: Supports a variety of not-for-profit groups and initiatives to improve the quality of life and environment in their service area.

Of particular note is the support for Shore House, which addresses resources, support services and a degree of community integration for people with mental illness.

Charitable, in-kind and volunteer work in support of community causes and events ranging from the large/well known (Habitat, ARC, etc.) to cultural (Two River Theater, Holiday Express etc.) and community well-being (Society for Prevention of Teen Suicide, Friends of the Monmouth County Park System etc.). The outreach to support of furloughed workers at Newark airport during the partial government shutdown by employees of Cross River Bank is worthy of note.

Banks with Deposits Between $300M and $500M

  1. Roselle Savings Bank: Strong tradition of employees at all levels actively participating in educational and other community organizations including the exceptionally diverse activities and causes supported by members of the board of directors.

The bank recognizes that well-educated students are the strong leaders of tomorrow through support of scholarships, financial literacy and school supply drives.

Assistance to underserved populations is strong, particularly with respect to food and nutrition needs, housing and services for people with disabilities.

  1. Crest Savings Bank: Bank employees and management reflect commitment to their communities through volunteer work, board memberships, support for youth and the arts, and an awareness of challenges and opportunities present in the smaller communities in which they operate.

The bank approach to funding requests and other methods of providing support is less about a customer relationship and more specific to the betterment of people within their service area.

Crest Savings Bank employees have a noticeable interest in supporting health-related causes and organizations. This is reflected in employee-driven initiatives for local causes (Casual 4a Cause) to support for regional and national causes (Cape May County Special Services School District, American Cancer Society etc.)

Banks with Deposits Below $300M

  1. Metuchen Savings Bank: Outreach and funding is focused on support for youth, health-related causes and enrichment of the community.

Bank employees are engaged with community events ranging from town and holiday parades to runs, walks and fairs.

Bank support for youth activities and causes is strong.

  1. Lusitania Savings Bank: Employees demonstrate strong support for focused health needs within their service area.

Enthusiastic support for Customer Appreciation Day.

Although small as measured by number of branches and employees, the bank demonstrates a large commitment to youth not only in traditional ways (scholarship) but also in slightly unconventional ways (support for students at a Cultural Studies School), recognizing that education is more than the “3 R’s.”