Giving with Impact: In Upstate South Carolina, Countybank Strategically Donates Where It Can Make the Most Difference

Giving with Impact: In Upstate South Carolina, Countybank Strategically Donates Where It Can Make the Most Difference

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Adam West
By: Adam West
Posted: March 28, 2019
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In a Nutshell: By virtue of its history as a locally owned institution founded during the Great Depression, Greenwood, SC-based Countybank fields many requests from area organizations in need of support. The bank’s plan for prioritizing its giving takes all its financial centers into account, draws on its associates’ personal experiences and passions, and always seeks to combine corporate and associate involvement. The result is a strategy for “giving with impact” that maximizes the positive effect Countybank has on the communities it serves — and that has earned the bank our Editor’s Choice™ Award for Community Commitment.

You never know where you’re going to find good things happening. For example, in Upstate South Carolina, the Greenwood Genetic Center (GGC) does groundbreaking work in understanding and combating genetic diseases, birth defects, and autism — work that carries an impact not just in South Carolina but around the world.

In addition to conducting research, GGC offers clinical genetic services, diagnostic laboratory testing, and educational programs and resources to people in the Upstate area. Although it’s affiliated with Clemson University — itself one of the nation’s leading STEM-oriented educational institutions — GGC also needs external community support to fund its research and provide compassionate care to area families.

Founded in 1933 at the height of the Great Depression, Countybank has financial centers across Upstate South Carolina — and a strong, ongoing commitment to GGC.

This past January, the Countybank Foundation donated $20,000 to the genetic center as part of a five-year plan to donate a total of $100,000 to the Greenwood Genetic Center. In reference to the gift, Countybank President and CEO R. Thornwell Dunlap III expressed the bank’s belief in GGC’s “meaningful impact on the Greenwood community” and its hope “that their growth and expansion will continue to diversify our local economy.”

Photo of Ken Harper, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Countybank

Ken Harper, Executive VP and Chief Operating Officer of Countybank.

To understand the donation fully, however, it’s important to understand it in context. Countybank donates intentionally with a strategy for helping its communities grow and prosper.

“As a community bank, we realize we can’t just take from our communities,” Executive VP and COO Ken Harper said. “We have to participate in serving them as well — and we do. That probably gives us more of a sense of purpose than anything else. And we’re pretty proud of it.”

Giving back to the communities it serves is integral to how Countybank approaches its business. And that ongoing dedication to its area organizations and citizens has earned the bank our Editor’s Choice™ Award for Community Commitment.

Supporting What Its Associates Are Most Passionate About

Ken oversees the sales and production components of Countybank and its mortgage, trust, and investments areas. He has a clear view of the purpose behind all of the bank’s donations, and underlying each is a connection between the recipients of the support and the bank’s associates.

“We select projects to support what our associates are passionate about,” Ken said. “Because there’s nothing worse than being required to do something your heart’s just not in, right?”

Photo of Countybank associates at a charity event

“We select projects that our associates are passionate about,” Ken told us.

Like so many families in the Upstate, Countybank associates and their children have directly benefited from the work and research taking place at GGC. And with GGC, Ken said, the Countybank connection runs even deeper.

“The spouse of one of our associates is a scientist at the genetic center, and we have gained a profound sense that for what we invest today could translate to in terms of possible breakthroughs for current and next generations,” he said.

Another Upstate healthcare institution with a broad mission and wide impact is the Institute for Translational Oncology Research (ITOR), located on the nearby Greenville Memorial Medical Campus. The “translational” part of ITOR’s name refers to its mission linking basic research and patient care.

In addition to discovering clinically meaningful molecular and genomic markers for cancer and delivering innovative and personalized cancer therapies, ITOR educates and trains medical professionals in translational and personalized medicine.

“None of our associates had to go very far in their families or in their neighborhoods to find someone who’s been affected by cancer,” Ken said. “If you’re going to support a cause, this was something we decided we could all get behind.”

Having a Plan for Giving Helps Prioritize Recipients

Although Countybank has scheduled its GGC program to run for five years, it typically works with donation recipients on a three-year plan. In ITOR’s case, that meant delivering on a commitment to give and raise what amounted to a total of $260,000.

“We felt good about our particpation with this cancer initiative, which actually lasted a total of six years, and we are very proud of the impact we were able to make,” Ken said. “But in the meantime, we knew that there were so many other great organizations doing great work that could also use our support.”

Photo of a Countybank associate handing over a check

Executives in each market Countybank operates in choose three to four causes to support every year.

Countybank structures its priorities so the voices of all its associates in all its financial centers are heard. The topmost layer of communication occurs among the bank’s market executives — Countybank operates in Greenville, Anderson, and Greer in addition to Greenwood. Those individuals then communicate with the financial center managers, who have their fingers on the pulse of what their associates are most concerned about.

“They convene in their individual cities and decide on three or four things they really want to support,” Ken said. “We ask them to produce a one- to five-page proposal on why they are passionate about requesting support for selected organizations. We bring those to the board, typically on a quarterly basis, and approve and make recommendations for funding amounts.”

It’s a process that recognizes the most relevant needs in each of Countybank’s communities and reduces the game of diminishing returns donors sometimes play, where smaller donations go to more recipients with less impact over time. Strategic planning also helps the bank manage requests and prepare an agenda for future giving.

That diligence means the bank might not have a place for folks who approach it only a few weeks before a fundraising campaign or event is scheduled to begin, but encourages everyone to apply for future funding allocations.

“We have allocated most of our funds for the current year, but if this is something you’re passionate about, and if it is an annual event, we’d love to receive a request from you for consideration for next year,” Ken said. “When you really get down to those who are most serious about asking for your support, we find they will take the time to truly make their case.”

An 86-Year Tradition of Corporate Philanthropy and Associate Commitment

More than 4,000 American banks failed in 1933 — the height of the Great Depression and the year Countybank got its start. In that difficult year, the ideals of guidance, communication, and relationship building formed the basis of an Upstate South Carolina financial services institution. Since then, Countybank has held true to its principles while remaining forward-thinking and dedicated to the personal success of every one of its customers.

Not surprisingly, that personal approach has extended to its giving as well. A key goal in every giving decision the bank makes is to involve its associates in what it’s trying to accomplish.

“Instead of just writing another check, we say, ‘How do you follow the check with associate involvement?’ Because this is what gives the gift of lasting impact,” Ken said.

Image of Countybank employees ringing The Salvation Army bell

Countybank associates can be found ringing The Salvation Army bell around the holidays.

With ITOR, for example, Countybank buttressed the corporate component of its two three-year campaigns with an annual associate fundraising effort. In any given year, in fact, Upstate residents will see Countybank associates participating in fundraising walks and runs, helping with concessions at area sports events, and even ringing The Salvation Army bell.

Rebuild Upstate is a major example of this link between corporate and associate giving. The program works with disabled, low-income, and elderly homeowners to repair and rehabilitate their homes so they can continue to safely live in them.

Unsafe and substandard housing reduces quality of life and even puts lives at risk for thousands of people in the Upstate. Rebuild Upstate provides volunteers and materials to create safe, healthy, and sustainable home environments.

In the process, it’s helping to make rotting decks, leaky roofs, and missing railings and ramps a thing of the past in Upstate South Carolina.

“More than 1,000 projects have been identified and approved within the 40-mile stretch between Greer to Anderson, and dollars are available for this work,” Ken said. “There are often just not enough people to do the work.”

Countybank does its share on the corporate end. Meanwhile, its aim this year is to recruit more volunteers to help with the waiting list of projects like the construction of the disability ramp and shower repair project it undertook in 2018 on behalf of a Vietnam veteran and his wife.

“What we’ve done, and what we’ll do in a bigger way this year, is take on days of giving,” Ken said. “We may end up having six or seven projects and 50-100 of our associates on each of these projects, meeting needs for homeowners who have no other way to make their homes more livable.”

“That will be a big job for us this year, not only in terms of financial giving, but associate involvement.”

And that means good things for Rebuild Upstate and the people of the region. It’s par for the course at Countybank, where giving for maximum impact is part of the plan — and the reason why the bank has earned our Editor’s Choice™ Award for Community Commitment.