First National Bank is known for “putting customers first.” Part and parcel of that commitment is reinvesting in the communities their customers call home.
“Our success as a company is dependent upon the success of the communities that we operate in…so the purpose of our community work is to contribute to the success of the communities in which we operate in and serve,” says Alec Gorynski, vice president of Community Development and Corporate Philanthropy at First National Bank.
First National partners with nonprofit organizations across its seven-state footprint—Nebraska, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, and Texas—to support local communities with reinvestments that channel through nonprofit partners. The bank reinvests by direct philanthropy, impact investment, and volunteerism, and chooses its nonprofit partners based on their alignment with First National initiatives, history and track record of success, and potential for impact.
While philanthropy and community development are not new concepts at First National, Gorynski says that in 2016 the bank specifically committed to reinvesting $85 million and 100,000 volunteer hours back into its communities by 2020. According to First National’s 2017 Impact Report, their two-year totals at the close of 2017 were at $56 million and 76,000 volunteer hours.
While Gorynski acknowledges there is lots of need and many excellent potential partner organizations, First National strategically aligns its community investments with organizations that are working to foster success in eight specific areas: strong local economies, stable housing, vibrant neighborhoods, an educated workforce, good health, community cohesion, access to culture, and sustained environment. Of those eight areas, First National focuses the majority of its efforts on an educated workforce, a strong local economy, and stable housing, each of which can act as essential building blocks to foster success in the other five areas.
“Success is a wide net when we think about helping our communities succeed, so we think about success from the economic standpoint,” says Gorynski. “We want to help our communities, and the individuals in our communities, move above a certain economic threshold. Certainly it’s a spectrum, but there’s an economic line at which people are more likely to be more active in the economy and more independently prosperous. What we’re really focused on is helping move people above that economic line.”
In service of that goal, Gorynski elaborates, an educated workforce is fostered by education and
job training that helps individuals attain the skills and tools necessary to achieve economic success, often through avenues like youth and adult education, or vocational training. Similarly, their strong economy initiative is buoyed by investments in nonprofits that support small business development, and stable housing is achieved by investments in organizations that work to provide quality, affordable housing opportunities.
“We believe that home ownership is a means to gain wealth and a pathway to economic stability and prosperity, so we want to invest in programs that help people own a home as a means to building wealth,” says Gorynski. “At the same time, we want to invest in programs that help low-income individuals get quality affordable housing, even if it is rental housing, because we know that housing should never take up more than 30 percent of your income and we want to ensure that people can get housing that’s affordable, but also quality.”
Amanda Brewer, CEO at Habitat for Humanity of Omaha, a prominent community partner of the bank, says the bank provides crucial support to her organization.
“First National Bank is an incredible partner of Habitat for Humanity. In addition to sponsoring a house and having hundreds of team members volunteer each year, First National has helped by investing in our loan pool, servicing Habitat loans, leading budgeting workshops for our homeowners, and providing countless hours of technical expertise,” says Brewer. “They’ve helped more families realize the dream of homeownership through Habitat and helped us transform neighborhoods.”
Not only does First National encourage employees to volunteer, they have a time-off policy that allows each employee eight hours paid time off annually to use for volunteering in their community. Gorynski says it all goes back to one of the bank’s guiding mantras: “When our communities are successful, we are successful.”
For Gorynski, it is a privilege to help set the strategy and tone for First National Bank’s community development and corporate philanthropy efforts, while also leading the team that “puts our financial and human capital to work in alignment with that strategy.” He is quick to praise his team and the Lauritzen family’s ownership and leadership as drivers in making these efforts successful.
“It’s truly an honor and a privilege to do this work for a company that has a 160-year history of being so committed to Omaha and to all of the communities in which it operates and serves,” says Gorynski. “The team does meaningful work developing really genuine, meaningful partnerships with nonprofit organizations. We have boots on the ground in Omaha and in every community in which we operate who are out there getting to know the communities we serve, getting to know the organizations that are addressing the needs in our communities, and finding meaningful ways for us to support the work of those organizations. It’s because of [the team] that we’re able to get to know the right nonprofit organizations, make meaningful investments in those organizations, and ultimately, realize our goal of successful communities.”
Visit firstnational.com/community to learn more about First National Bank’s community development and philanthropy efforts.
This article was printed in the August/September 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.