Bringing Purpose to Life Through “Feet on the Street”: How KeyBank Creates a Culture of Community Involvement

Feb 24, 2017 1:00 PM ET

This Q&A with Margot Copeland, Chair and CEO of KeyBank Foundation, and Yvonne Siu Turner of Points of Light, examines key trends of The Civic 50, a Points of Light initiative that recognizes the most community-minded companies in the nation every year. Honored at Points of Light’s Conference on Volunteering and Service, Civic 50 honorees are trailblazers in demonstrating how companies can turn good intentions into sound business practices.

Q: In 2016, Civic 50 honorees demonstrated they are prioritizing meaningful engagement with communities by creating a strong culture of community involvement. What does this look like at KeyBank?

A: For KeyBank, community involvement is a pillar of our approach to responsible banking. Responsible banking means conducting our business with integrity and transparency. It is not only about offering responsible products and services, it is about responsible citizenship.

This makes for a better community partner. As all leaders and employees at our company see how their business and their day-to-day activities impact the community, you build a culture of involvement. As our CEO Beth Mooney has said: “For us, balancing mission and margin is about a commitment that goes above and beyond what is required. It is simply the right thing to do, and it is good business.”

Our involvement brings KeyBank’s values to life by fully participating in local communities and encouraging others to do the same.

Q: What is KeyBank’s “shadow of the leader” concept?

A: Setting the tone at the top is extremely important. From the CEO down, we expect and foster a culture of service, as well as a commitment to diversity and inclusion, among our nearly 20,000 employees. The “shadow of the leader” is a very real concept at Key, and our leaders are heavily involved in their communities. We purposefully hire, promote and retain those who are invested in building thriving communities, and select questions we ask potential leaders during interviews revolve around the importance of community service. At any given time, there are dozens of service and volunteer initiatives throughout the bank.

Q: What does it mean to help a community thrive, as a bank?

A: The most significant investment we make is in our communities. And this comes in many forms. We invest in businesses and organizations that create jobs, we focus on opening minds and ensuring diversity of all kinds. These are investments that make for a better company, and a better community.

This past year, KeyBank announced a $16.5 billion National Community Benefits Plan. This plan is the next step – a very bold and ground-breaking step – in how we are helping clients and communities thrive. The plan, developed in partnership with the National Community Reinvestment Coalition and its members, includes investment across all our markets in: mortgage lending in low- to moderate-income communities and borrowers; small business and farm lending, targeted to low- to moderate-income urban and rural communities; community development lending and investment commitments; and an innovation fund to support the development of banking services for underserved communities and populations.

As CEO of the KeyBank Foundation, I’m excited the plan also calls for the foundation to make $175 million in philanthropic investments over five years, focused on our current priorities of education and workforce, as well as a new area of focus on urban neighborhoods and rural communities, which we call “Neighbors.” 

Q: What role do volunteer leaders play at the local level in supporting a culture of community engagement? Why is this important to KeyBank?

A: As I said earlier, it starts at the top. Our CEO has provided a great deal of clarity around our purpose to help clients and communities thrive. That clarity of purpose extends across our footprint and especially comes to life through our company’s employees and builds on our culture of engagement.

Our culture of community engagement is longstanding. KeyBank is more than 160 years old and KeyBank Foundation is more than 45 years old. Throughout the decades, we’ve implemented a number of policies that we regard today as simply part of our culture.

How it comes to life is feet on the street. Our employees provided more than 500,000 volunteer hours across KeyBank’s 15-state footprint in the past year. They are working in their communities, leading organizations, helping neighborhoods grow. We also encourage support for local initiatives through our matching gift program, which allows an employee to make a gift and then request a matching amount from KeyBank, which is sent directly to the organization. Our community leadership gift program also provides a $500 gift to nonprofit organizations where our employees serve as board members.

Q: Another trend Civic 50 companies demonstrated in 2016 was that they are strategically connecting community engagement initiatives with key business functions, or that they are “doing well by doing good.” How does KeyBank do this?

A: We’ve undertaken a market-by-market community engagement strategy that is connecting how we do business with how we impact the community. It’s about identifying issues and community concerns where we can have an impact, and then addressing them through the various tools, products and services laid out in our National Community Benefits Plan. Each market has a corporate responsibility officer who works with business leaders and community leaders, to create a local strategy designed for maximum impact.

Q: What’s one piece of advice you would give to a CSR leader just getting started in this field?

A: Get out from behind your desk and become feet and ears on the street. Get to know your local community at a deeper level, get to know the need and then make connections to how you and your company can have a positive impact. You can’t do that from your desk. You have to sit down and listen to and understand what is being said in your neighborhoods.

Points of Light has launched its search for the most community-minded companies in the country for 2017. Do you have what it takes? Take the survey today. The deadline is March 1, 2017. To see previous winners and learn the secrets and stories revealing what it takes to be considered a Civic 50 honoree, visit