Wells Fargo promotes culture of philanthropy

Banks are in the business of turning a profit for shareholders and other investors — a challenging mission during a financial downturn.
But many banks go beyond that effort as they try to make their communities financially strong and local residents happy and healthy.

“We want to satisfy all our customers’ needs and satisfy them financially,” said Steve Irion, community bank president for Wells Fargo in Grand Junction. “And we want to improve the quality of life for our communities.”

Wells Fargo has donated more than $250 million dollars to nonprofits across the country this year, Irion said.

The company culture encourages much more than financial contributions, though. Wells Fargo employees are encouraged to become involved in local organizations.

“We encourage them to volunteer and if they’re passionate about that, we try to support the organization,” Irion said. That support comes in the form of financial donations and allowing employees to take time off work to volunteer.

Wells Fargo sets aside a budget for contributions in each community.

“I encourage spending it so they don’t think the need is not as great as elsewhere,” Irion said, adding requests for contributions exceeded what the company can meet this year. More people are asking for help due to the soft economy, and some charitable organizations have less to give this holiday season because contributions have waned.

“We try to support as many organizations as possible,” Irion said. “Even though economic times have been tougher, we haven’t decreased our contributions.”

Wells Fargo maintains a separate community assistance fund designed to help smaller nonprofits that are sometimes overlooked by contributors. The bank earmarked $12,000 in Grand Junction, funding donations in the range of $500 to $1,000 each.

Organizations make requests in the fall by appearing in person and the bank announces the awards in October.

“It shows us how many volunteers there are helping the homeless, seniors, children,” Irion said. “It is a humbling experience.”

Wells Fargo is also a prominent contributor to United Way. Wells Fargo and Wachovia Corporation (which work together since merging in 2008) contributed more than $100 million to the United Way this year.

Irion chaired the United Way of Mesa County campaign drive for two years.

Wells Fargo urges employees to contribute to United Way through payroll deductions. Employees in the Grand Valley contributed about $33,000 to the 2009-2010 campaign, with Wells Fargo pitching in $17,000 as a company.

The company’s culture of giving meshes with Irion’s personal philosophy.

“I just know it’s personally the way I was raised,” he said. “My parents — the first check they wrote out each month was to the church.”

Irion and Wells Fargo plan to continue with the same type of philosophy, trying to help people cope with hard times and get their lives in order as a new year begins.