First Independent hires help to manage massive generosity

Bank wants to ensure dollars and time, covering all bases

From its core, First Independent is a community bank.

That means it has a responsibility to take care of the community that helped it flourish, say its founders.

In the past five years, the bank and those founders, the Firstenburg family, gave more than $20 million back.

And throughout the region, the bank employs more than 350 people, who double-agent as volunteers, sitting on boards of nonprofits or providing good old-fashioned elbow grease when a wall needs painted or a family needs a Thanksgiving turkey.

That’s a lot of money and do-gooders to keep track of, said Public Relations Manager Tammi Olund.

Olund, whose background is in nonprofit work, was brought on in June to organize the bank’s volunteer efforts and ensure it is giving to its full potential.

"The bank has been out there giving for so long, and we want to make sure we’re covering all of our bases, not just here and there," she said.

Olund previously worked for the United Way and Sisters of St. Mary’s of Oregon.

Program Consultant Margaret Wade, who worked with United Way, also was hired to help with the effort.

"We never had this level of expertise in the nonprofit sector," said Vice President and Director of Marketing Stacey Graham. "We’ve really formalized our volunteer effort, which is part of our new philosophy of doing community relations in a different way."

Olund said the previous efforts had been piecemeal.

"Different people in different departments were doing their own things," she said. "Nobody was really aware of what everyone else was doing. We want to get a bigger handle on where people are involved."

Olund aims to form a bankwide volunteer board and ultimately have the ability to coordinate the entire giving program around pressing issues in the community.

New philosophy

Each year as a bank, First Independent gives between $150,000 and $200,000 to different community organizations.

Last year, the bank kicked off its corporate sponsorship program, adopting the YWCA of Clark County as its first nonprofit organization to commit between $10,000 and $25,000 for two years.

A part of the new program, the bank picks a charity with which it’s had experience, and promotes it. In return, the organization gives the bank recognition. At the end of the two years, First Independent will help the charity solicit another corporate sponsor.

The bank will select its next nonprofit in November, Graham said.

"The competition for funding is so fierce now," she said. "Our philosophy is we want to alleviate some of that pressure and provide support in other ways. It frees up some of their time to do more of what they need to be doing."

Graham said the bank would like to increase its employee giving by 20 percent. It matches employee gifts to nonprofits up to $500 and encourages volunteerism.

In 2001, a group of employees formed a volunteer group called Helping Hands that donates supplies and time to community projects.

The group recently spent a weekend repainting the YWCA of Clark County’s child care room, benefiting mostly preschool children living in homeless or domestic violence shelters.

The projects selected by Helping Hands are somewhat random, Olund said. Employees hear of someone in need from a friend of a friend or at one of the bank branches and they help.

Graham said in the future the group may do less giving to individuals and focus more on nonprofit organizations.

Also aimed at helping nonprofits is the bank’s first-ever corporate sponsorship workshop for nonprofit organizations, set for January. First Independent will sponsor the event to provide information on the most effective methods of approaching corporations for funding and what corporations want out of sponsorships.

The event will be of no cost to the nonprofits.

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