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Rethinking Corporate Community Involvement

Ben Finkelstein | Published on 8/5/2021

Over the last 18 months, the way U.S. Bank has seen its community engagement model change dramatically. The events of 2020 and now 2021 forced the Minneapolis based lender to refocus on its two most important commitments.

A national partner during COVID

U.S. Bank Foundation directed $30 million in March 2020 in new and annual funding to support COVID-19 relief efforts in communities around the country.

The community response included:

National donations: $4 million to national and local United Ways LISC and Operation HOPE to support individuals and small businesses affected by COVID-19. Grants to United Way Worldwide and to local United Way chapters helped add capacity to the 211 Network, which experienced a 300% increase in the first few weeks of the pandemic as individuals reached out for help. The investment in LISC contributed to rapid relief grants, flexible loan products and coordinated solutions to small businesses facing critical challenges. Finally, grants to Operation HOPE provided critical financial education coaching and counseling with a focus on individuals, families and small businesses in low- to moderate-income communities.

Local donations: $26 million to local nonprofit organizations across the country to continue supporting individuals and families with financial education, affordable housing and work assistance. This included employee donations, which U.S. Bank doubled through matching gifts.

Investing in and supporting the community

In response to the George Floyd murder and the resulting protests and civil unrest throughout the United States, U.S. Bank announced a $116 million commitment to bridge social and economic gaps and enhance opportunity for people of color.

In June, the bank announced it would increase efforts to support small and minority-owned businesses that create jobs and build a social infrastructure that leads to long-term economic success, doubling partnerships with Black suppliers in the next 12 months.

The commitment included $100 million annually in capital to Black-owned and Black-led businesses or organizations, and the U.S. Bank Foundation announced a $15 million Rebuild and Transform fund to support Black and people of color led nonprofits. U.S. Bank also expanded its commitment to Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) by awarding $1 million in grants and commercial loans to help rebuild and reinvest in affordable housing and retail commercial businesses in impacted areas.

The first $5 million of that went to the Twin Cities as general operating support and included funding to grantees to support trauma care for staff or residents in impacted areas. Included in this was a $100,000 grant to the Philanthropic Collective to Combat Anti-Blackness & Realize Racial Justice. The initiative was the collective brain power of three Black leaders from three nonprofit organizations in Minneapolis all focused on racial equity — Lulete Mola of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, Chanda Smith Baker from the Minneapolis Foundation and Repa Mekha from Nexus Community Partners.

“During the community uprising in response to the killing of George Floyd, I knew something real and tangible needed to be done,” said Mola. “Having followed the work of Repa and Chanda and the way they paved paths in uncharted territories, it was instinctual for me to call them. When we talked, we agreed that something must be done. We were committed to creating, visioning and innovating together.”

“We are encouraged by the response we’ve received, but we are early in the process. Our work to move Minnesota philanthropy towards racial justice is different than what I have seen in my lifetime,” said Mekha. “With this collective, we ask, ‘How much greater can philanthropy be?’ Philanthropy needs to be willing to step out and take meaningful action to change systems, practices, and policies within organizations, the field, and society. We are building on what happened in Minneapolis, the conditions are ripe for ‘real change.’”

“The Philanthropic Collective to Combat Anti-Blackness and Realize Racial justice is a systems change movement,” said Smith Baker. “Systems change, the act of transforming policies, institutions, and narratives, takes time. We are committed to working with intention to deliberately achieve real change.”