Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to share with each of you my thoughts on community banking (see the January 2019 issue of Wisconsin Banker). The message in that article referenced community banks as “food for the soul” for the areas we individually represent and the ability to make a difference for our communities in ways that offering lower rates could never impact. Community banking is a specialty, in a sense. We are afforded the opportunity to make local, in-house decisions where the corporate banks (and credit unions) can find themselves jumping through multiple hoops and months of decision making. Don’t get me wrong, we do that too. Community banks seem to have a little more fluidity when it comes to timing, however.

While we find ourselves able to offer abundance to many, how difficult do we find it saying “no” to a request? We are social people who thrive on reciprocity and giving back. It’s in our nature as a community bank to oblige requests, and saying “no” sometimes feels like we are threatening a relationship that we’ve worked so hard for and/or one we are working to establish. The fact of the matter is, we can’t say “yes” to every request that comes through our doors. Here are a few things to consider as we prepare to move into a new calendar (and perhaps) budget year:

Does your bank have parameters set? Meaning, do you pre-define how your donation/sponsorship dollars are going to be spent? A couple of examples that I will share from my community bank are:

  • Will the donation benefit the greater good of the people in our area? Meaning, will the dollars serve the multitudes of folks in the area vs. a personal cause like a benefit of some nature.
  • Will the donation be used to provide a literacy opportunity and/or will it provide needed food/shelter to those in need? Has your bank determined what’s important to you in the giving process or are you just willy-nilly providing donations?

For many years, we have looked at donations with these things in mind. It’s important to know what you stand for and the focus areas that are most important to your bank and your mission. Creating a structure for how you spend your time and your dollars makes the answer to the ask just that much easier.

You might also consider the budgeting “piece of the pie” which is undoubtedly the simplest form of “no.” If it’s not budgeted, it’s not an option. At this juncture in most of our businesses, the donations we give are generally annual and can be fairly predetermined when we set our budgets for the coming year. Yes, new things are developed over time and new requests come in that should be respected. However, we can’t say “yes” to everything, and it isn’t a smart business practice to do so. What is smart business is take the time to say, “Thank you for including us with the opportunity to be a part of your event. We really appreciate having been asked and wish your group the very best success.”

The follow-up to the thank-you piece is the information to the requestor on what your bank’s process is and if and how the group might make a request in the future. Whatever your guidelines are, if the request doesn’t fall in line with them, you instantly have your answer. If the request is new and not previously budgeted, the answer is simply, “Thank you for asking, however we are not accepting any new requests this year.” Follow that with if/how they can make a request in future years.

Using the word “no” can be hard, but setting your guidelines in advance for the “thank you, anyway” allows you to leave the door open to future relationship development whether you donate or not. It also allows you to put the business back into the decision and leave the emotions of the request at the door. Keeping it positive is what it’s all about!

Woletz is vice president – marketing at First National Community Bank, New Richmond and a member of the 2019-2020 WBA Marketing Committee.