Banking on social responsibility

Scotiabank donates millions to charities, recognizes workers’ volunteer efforts
By Shannon Klie
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 02/11/2011

About seven years ago, Jim Kurtz, a Scotiabank branch manager in Winnipeg, decided he wanted to help the Salvation Army collect toys for needy children at Christmas.

“There are very many needy children in the city of Winnipeg and surrounding areas. The numbers astounded me,” said Kurtz, who has worked at Scotiabank for 33 years.

He spoke with his superiors at the bank to see if there would be corporate interest in supporting his initiative and if any of the other staff would want to get involved.

“Lo and behold, most of the Scotiabank community in the city of Winnipeg agreed that this is something they wanted to do and they were excited the bank would support the fundraising effort,” he said.

The initiative has grown to include school fundraisers, community fundraisers and large corporate donations from the likes of McDonald’s, raising about $150,000 to $200,000 in cash and toys each year for the Salvation Army.

“The day I retire, I’ll still be involved in that program,” said Kurtz, who is also involved in many other community efforts.

To honour volunteers such as Kurtz and make it easier for the bank’s 70,000 employees to give back in their communities, Scotiabank launched the Bright Future program. The global philanthropic program brings together all of the bank’s charitable, social and community efforts in one online community.

Scotiabank operates in more than 50 countries and community involvement has been central to the bank’s culture since its inception more than 170 years ago, said Rick Waugh, CEO at Scotiabank.

“Scotiabank has always had this very deep connection with the communities we serve,” said Waugh. “Giving back is a very central part of our culture.”

Over the past five years, Scotiabank has donated about $44 million every year to community causes around the world. It also recognizes how valuable employees’ time is and donates $1,000 to each employee’s ­charity if they volunteer more than 50 hours over the year.

“The scarcest resource is our time,” he said.

Paula Shortall, a Scotiabank branch manager in St. John’s, N.L., has been volunteering at different organizations in her community since she first started working at Scotiabank 35 years ago.

She has worked with Big Brothers Big Sisters in the past and is currently a member of the Rotary Club and chairman of the Agnes Pratt nursing home foundation.

“When your employer recognizes you and supports you financially by giving back to your charity, I feel rewarded, I feel like they care about what I do. I feel like my company recognizes me,” said Shortall.

In 2010 alone, employees volunteered more than 324,000 hours and the bank donated $7.5 million. However, there were many more employees who volunteered but didn’t know about the program so their hours weren’t counted, said Ann ­DeRabbie, director of media communications at Scotiabank.

“Because we didn’t have the infrastructure in place, we know we weren’t fully capturing what our employees were doing,” she said. “Now that we’ve got the platform, we have the ability to reach out to more employees and create better awareness that these resources are available. If they’re contributing to their communities, we want to recognize and support that.”

The new portal will have links to the team program, where the bank matches funds raised by employee teams of two to five people up to $5,000 and up to $15,000 for teams of five or more. Kurtz’s team has taken advantage of this for its Salvation Army toy drive initiative.

To further encourage employees’ community involvement, the bank also launched a community leadership award that will recognize two employees (one Canadian, one international), two teams (one Canadian, one international) for their commitment to their community. The bank will donate $2,500 to the individual recipients’ charity of choice and $5,000 to the winning teams’ charity.

Charities, regardless of location, will be able to log onto the Bright Future website to find out how to apply for corporate support and post volunteer opportunities in the communities in which Scotiabank operates, said DeRabbie.

Employees will then be able to find the opportunities in their regions that match their skills and interests, she said. The site will also serve as a community for bank employees to share their stories, best practices and achievements.

The bank has been working on the program for the past year and while developing an internal online community for 70,000 employees has been a daunting task, making sure it will be relevant in all the bank’s communities has been easy, said DeRabbie.

While there is an overarching banner and broad guidelines, the program is still executed at the local level, she said.

“The employees who are in those communities know best what the needs of those communities are. So the decision-making is still very localized within that community,” she said.

In having such a program, Scotiabank is differentiating itself from the competition in a business and HR perspective, said Craig Kielburger, co-founder of the charity Free the Children.

“Young people graduating from school are looking for employers who do give back. It is a recruitment issue, it’s a brand differentiation issue,” said Kielburger. “We live in an age where so many people, sadly, aren’t inspired. They’re looking for a lot more than a paycheque from an employer today. They’re looking to work at a place that also gives back.”

And corporations need to celebrate and recognize the fact people are committed to their community, he said.

“I dream of the day when every single large corporation, or small, has a corporate social responsibility program that celebrates employee volunteerism, that helps to give financial contributions to the community and builds strong ethical practices as they run their company,” said Kielburger.

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