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Report Measures Charitable Moves by Big Banks

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 7, 2013

BALTIMORE - Most banks are proud to claim they are good corporate citizens, but in a new report, an independent watchdog group in the world of charitable giving is challenging that image.

The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) examined the contributions of four of the largest banks 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.

Also in the report is an evaluation of how the banks fared in meeting the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy'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 banks usually gives in two ways: through a separate charitable foundation, where the records are public and can be tracked; and from their 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.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MD