More than Money: How Berkshire Bank Creates Stronger Communities Through Social Responsibility and Volunteerism

More than Money: How Berkshire Bank Creates Stronger Communities Through Social Responsibility and Volunteerism

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Ray FitzGerald
By: Ray FitzGerald
Posted: August 27, 2018
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In a Nutshell: Having gotten its start serving a single county in Massachusetts, Berkshire Bank carries that history of personalized service into every aspect of its business. The bank now covers six states, in large part, because of its dedication to each community it serves. Berkshire donates both time and money to community nonprofits, and was named one of Massachusetts’ Most Charitable Companies by the Boston Business Journal. And, through its XTeam volunteer program, Berkshire employees have logged more than 40,000 volunteer hours to local causes in each of the last two years.

Many people, myself included, see their bank as a place to keep money or take out a loan for a new home or car. A trip to the bank is usually a quick, in-and-out experience to make a deposit or a withdrawal.

And most banks are fine with that role — they provide a service and strive to increase profits for shareholders. However, a growing number of banks want their role to be more meaningful.

Berkshire Bank believes it has more to offer consumers than financial products. The bank has grown from a small, community institution serving Berkshire County, Massachusetts, to now holding over $11.6 billion in assets and offering 115 full-service branches across Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

“Berkshire Bank has a long history of serving the community,” said Lori Gazzillo, Senior Vice President and Director of the Berkshire Bank Foundation. “As we’ve grown, our commitment to the communities we serve remains strong. We pride ourselves on becoming an integral part of the community when we enter new markets.”

In fact, the bank is often recognized for the work it does within its communities. Just last year, the Boston Business Journal named Berkshire Bank one of Massachusetts’ Most Charitable Companies.

Graphic of Berkshire Bank volunteerism stats

Gazzillo pointed to Berkshire’s newest branch location in Malta, New York, as an example: During the grand opening celebration, Berkshire provided a grant to Rebuilding Together Saratoga County, a nonprofit organization that helps renovate and repair homes for low-income residents.

While Berkshire shows its commitment to the communities it serves by researching projects that need funding and providing financial support, that’s just scratching the surface. The bank also gets involved in community volunteer efforts, putting in hours of work for nonprofit projects that need helping hands.

“Our volunteer program, which we call the XTeam, enables our employees to serve on the boards of local nonprofits, deliver financial literacy courses, and support the community as a whole,” Gazzillo said.

Gazzillo said Berkshire prioritizes its partnerships with nonprofits that work in the areas of economic development and education, as well as those that serve the needs of low- and moderate-income individuals and families. The institution has awarded hundreds of grants and donated thousands of volunteer hours to many deserving organizations that focus on those areas.

Habitat for Humanity, which has many chapters throughout the bank’s six-state footprint, is one of the many organizations Berkshire works with. Along with financial support, the XTeam regularly takes part in Habitat home builds and other community outreach events.

“Seeing a family realize the dream of homeownership, when they likely couldn’t have purchased a home on their own, is the most rewarding part of what we do,” Gazzillo said.

Berkshire Bank Commits to 40,000+ Volunteer Hours a Year

Gary Levante, Berkshire’s Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility said the institution works with more than 300 volunteer programs each year from Boston to Costa Mesa, California, and everywhere in between.

To drive home the company’s commitment to community involvement, every employee receives 16 paid hours each year they can use to volunteer at any organization they choose.

“It’s a way for us, as a business, to stand behind the commitment to service and harness our human capital for good,” he said. “All employees, from front-line staff all the way up to the CEO, have that same opportunity to get out and give back in their community.”

Photo of Berkshire's Lori Gazzillo and Gary Levante

We spoke with Lori Gazzillo, Senior Vice President and Director of the Berkshire Bank Foundation, and Gary Levante, Berkshire’s Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility.

In each of the last two years, 100% of Berkshire Bank employees have participated in the volunteer program and contributed more than 40,000 hours of volunteer service.

“I think that’s a testament to our cultural commitment to service and investing in our community by using more than our voices,” Levante said. “Our employees feel a tremendous responsibility to help every member of our community realize life’s exciting moments.”

The volunteer program, which is open to every department within the institution, enables all employees to make a difference in their own way.

“Our corporate volunteer program is really driven by our employees in local markets across the country,” he said. “We want to empower those employees to identify, select, plan, and execute all of the company-supported projects we take part in.”

Events During Annual Xtraordinary Day Impact Thousands

As if a year-round volunteer program weren’t enough, Berkshire increases its level of commitment each year through its Xtraordinary Day event.

Photo collage of Berkshire Bank employees volunteering

Every year, Berkshire Bank hosts its Xtraordinary Day of volunteerism.

“This day is our companywide volunteer day on steroids, so to speak,” Levante said. “We actually close down all of our offices at noon to allow every one of our employees to get out and volunteer at a company-supported project.”

On June 5, 2018, Berkshire Bank’s Xtraordinary Day contributed to 70 volunteer events across the country with 92% of the company’s workforce participating in the day’s events.

“The thing we’re most proud of is that our employees helped impact 500,000 individuals in one afternoon,” Levante said. “That’s 500,000 lives changed.”

Activities completed during Xtraordinary Day have included cleaning up local parks, renovating the homes of low-income residents, and teaching financial literacy courses.

A Company Culture Based on Compassion

While Berkshire Bank could simply provide funding to a local nonprofit as a promotional opportunity, Gazzillo said that action would be counter to what the institution truly believes.

“When it comes to our community support, we don’t just simply write a check and walk away,” she said. “In every instance, we’re looking for a meaningful way to partner with an organization to create real change beyond just providing financial support.”

That change is evident in the bank’s rapid growth and expansion over the last two decades. Consumers want to support organizations that support them in return, and, when it comes to supporting its communities, few institutions take their role as seriously as Berkshire Bank.