Megabanks’ Philanthropic Claims Don’t Match Reality

posted on: January 4, 2013

by Aaron Dorfman

The 113th Congress was sworn in this week. NCRP’s new report, Take and Give: The Crimes and Philanthropy of Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and  JPMorgan Chase, provides lawmakers and the public with clear and measurable guidelines to assess the philanthropic claims made by these banks as they push against reforms to prevent fraud, abuse and future financial meltdown.

The four megabanks spend billions of dollars on lobbyists and PR campaigns to boost their public images, and they certainly are not shy about touting their supposedly generous philanthropic initiatives. But a closer look at their track record shows unverifiable, lackluster giving:

  • None of the four megabanks disclosed the recipients of purported charitable contributions disbursed from corporate treasuries, making it impossible to independently verify claims of philanthropic largesse.
  • During the recession, only one of the four megabanks surpassed the financial industry’s median of philanthropic generosity, but all four maintained or increased their already massive political spending.
  • The megabanks’ corporate foundations gave less than 50 percent of grant dollars to efforts that explicitly benefit the poor, elderly and other underserved populations.

The report also includes a “rap sheet” on the four megabanks, which provides information on convictions in U.S. courts, fines or settlements paid as a result of legal proceedings, fines or settlements paid to government entities or industry regulators, other types of wrongdoing a bank has admitted and pending indictments brought by government entities.

So the big question is: Would you trust them when they say their charitable giving is especially generous and effective?

We hope that the banks will use the assessment criteria in Take and Give to bring transparency to their giving, prioritize grantmaking that benefits marginalized groups and adopt practices that strengthen their grantees.

And we hope lawmakers in the 113th Congress won’t be hoodwinked into lenient regulation by claims of philanthropic giving that don’t match reality. 

At the end of the day philanthropy is more than gaining PR points. It’s about giving back to our communities and helping those that need help the most.

Aaron Dorfman is executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP). He frequently blogs about the role of philanthropy in society.