Philanthropy of Megabanks Mediocre, Unverifiable, Report Finds

While the nation's four largest banks spend billions of dollars on lobbyists and public relations campaigns touting their philanthropic initiatives, the public record reveals a significant amount of unverifiable, lackluster giving, a new report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy finds.

The report, Take and Give: The Crimes and Philanthropy of Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase (20 pages, PDF), evaluated the charitable giving of the four banks based on verifiability, quantity, and quality, and found that the giving of all four banks lacked transparency; that three of the banks fell below the financial industry's median for philanthropic generosity; and that none met NCRP's best practices criteria for impact or the grantmaking process.

Because none of the banks disclosed the recipients of grant funds disbursed from their corporate treasuries, it was impossible, the report notes, to verify their claims of philanthropic generosity. Moreover, the banks often include certain for-profit investments or employee volunteer hours, which are only partially subsidized, in the value of their philanthropy.

When corporate generosity is measured in terms of cash grants to nonprofits as a percentage of corporate revenue, only Bank of America (0.15 percent) came out above the median (0.13 percent) in a survey by the Center Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, while Wells Fargo (0.12 percent), JPMorgan Chase (0.08 percent), and Goldman Sachs (0.03 percent) were all below median. In addition, none of the banks met NCRP's benchmarks for grantmaking to benefit marginalized communities, promote social justice, or provide general operating support and multiyear grants, and while all four scored well in terms of board governance, all were rated substandard in terms of transparency and philanthropic codes of conduct.

"The four megabanks invite tougher scrutiny than most corporate grantmakers," the report argues, "because of their massive lawbreaking and because their aggressive PR campaigns to repair their public reputations boast generous and effective philanthropy — boasts they repeat loudly and often as they lobby public officials against reforms to safeguard against fraud, abuse and financial collapse."

"These too-big-to-fail banks already hurt America with their lawbreaking and unscrupulous practices that greatly contributed to the financial crisis," said NCRP executive director Aaron Dorfman. "The question is — should you trust them when they say their charitable giving is especially generous and effective? I wouldn't."

"New Report: Philanthropy of Megabanks Mediocre, Lacks Transparency." National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy Press Release 01/03/2013.