BofA’s Giving Record ‘Mediocre,’ Goldman’s Is ‘Miserly’: Charity Watchdog

Report says big banks fail to meet best-practices goals

Even when they try, big banks can’t seem to get it right these days.

The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, which characterizes itself as “the only independent watchdog of institutional philanthropy,” has issued a highly critical report on the performance of the corporate foundations of Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase.

The report said only one megabank foundation had exceeded the financial industry median for quantitative philanthropic generosity of 0.13% between 2006 and 2010.

The giving of Bank of America, at 0.15%, and Wells Fargo, at 0.12%, was “mediocre,” it said. JPMorgan Chase’s, at 0.08%, was “disappointing”; and Goldman Sachs’s, at 0.03%, was “miserly.”

The median was developed by the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy based on surveys of some 150 corporations, including Fortune 500 heavyweights.

The NCRP report faulted the bank foundations for failing to meet best-practices goals for minimum benchmark grants to lower-income and other underserved communities, for advocacy, for general operating support and for multiyear grants.

The report also criticized the megabank foundations for poor transparency and verifiability for failing to say exactly which charities received grants. “Thus, the grantmaking of all four banks suffers from the same lack of transparency that afflicts most corporate philanthropy.”

In terms of grantmaking process, NCRP gave all the foundations a good grade for board governance, but said they all were substandard in terms of transparency and philanthropic codes of conduct.

NCRP explained its gloves-off scrutiny of megabank foundations. After acknowledging that for-profit corporations are not legally obligated to engage in philanthropy, it said it holds those that do to a lower standard of grantmaking effectiveness than it does nonprofit foundations.

“But the four megabanks invite tougher scrutiny than most corporate grantmakers because of their massive lawbreaking and because their aggressive PR campaigns to repair their public reputations boast generous and effective philanthropy,” the group said in a statement.

In comments to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, the banks pushed back, disputing the NCRP report’s criticisms. Bank of America said some three-fifths of its grantmaking last year went to general support.

JPMorgan Chase said its foundations give more that $200 million a year to worthy causes globally.

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