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Report: Megabanks Give Less than 1% to Charity

PHOTO: Pillars of the community? The new report "Take and Give" examines how little four of the largest banks do in terms of quantity and quality of their charitable contributions. Courtesy NCRP.
PHOTO: Pillars of the community? The new report "Take and Give" examines how little four of the largest banks do in terms of quantity and quality of their charitable contributions. Courtesy NCRP.
January 8, 2013

NEW YORK - In an effort to rebuild their tarnished reputations, the nation's biggest banks are touting their charitable contributions and community involvement. But on closer inspection, a new report says, they're not so charitable after all.

The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) has examined the contributions of four megabanks over five years. Report author Sean Dobson, NCRP field director, says the banks include making low-interest loans to for-profit companies, and employees' volunteer hours, when tallying their charitable giving, and overall, they spend a fraction of one percent of total revenue on philanthropy.

"They brag a lot about their charitable donations, and they brag loudest and most often whenever they're in Washington, D.C., lobbying lawmakers to try to water down financial reforms that will safeguard the public against fraud, abuse, and another financial collapse."

The institutions in the report are Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and Wells Fargo. Dobson says his group doesn't want Congress to be, in his words, "hoodwinked" by the megabanks' claims of generosity as lawmakers work on more stringent banking regulations.

Also in the report is an evaluation of how the banks fared in meeting NCRP's minimum benchmarks for responsible giving. These include using at least half of their charitable dollars to benefit vulnerable populations instead of, say, Ivy League schools, and giving nonprofits more flexible, multi-year grants instead of one-time amounts.

None of the four banks met those standards, says Dobson.

"In fact, these four megabanks, their philanthropy, compared to other big financial institutions, is actually mediocre in terms of its quantity and its quality. And also, it lacks transparency; much of it cannot be verified."

He explains that a bank typically gives in two ways: through a separate charitable foundation, where the records are public and can be tracked; and from its own corporate treasury, which is private information and cannot be confirmed, even if the company is publicly traded.

See the report, "Take and Give," at blog.ncrp.org.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY