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With Charitable Donations, BOKF Employees Get Personal

Company donates $125,000 in surprise gifts to nonprofits selected by employees across eight states.

By Megan Ryan and Sue Hermann

The Colorado Veteran's Project team was surprised to learn of the $10,000 donation from BOK Financial.

When Brittney Costabile was growing up in Bloomington, Indiana, the town’s American Legion and VFW halls were like a second home. Her dad was a Marine, so calling bingo on Tuesday nights and spending fall afternoons decorating parade floats were a way to honor all the men and women who have served their country.

“I will always be grateful for the support these clubs and organizations provide for our veterans and their families,” she said. “My dad proudly served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a combat veteran, surviving the Vietnam War, so when I had the chance to give back, I went all out.”

Costabile got that chance on Sept. 9, when she personally awarded $10,000 to the Colorado Veterans Project on behalf of her employer, BOK Financial. The organization was surprised with an outdoor, socially distanced check presentation at the Armed Forces Tribute Garden in a Denver suburb. Costabile and co-nominator Joyce Wykstra—whose son served in the U.S. Army—had the honor of sharing the news.

That award was one of 15—totaling $125,000—provided to local nonprofits nominated by BOK Financial employees.

“Even though we couldn’t physically be together because of the pandemic, we could be united in making a difference in our communities,” said President and CEO Steve Bradshaw in announcing the awards. “So we decided to create some good and have fun doing it.”

Company walks the walk on community service

The campaign—deemed Guide the Giving—generated employee nominations of 220 nonprofit organizations across the company’s eight-state footprint, from food banks to youth organizations to groups helping victims of sex trafficking.

Employees voted on the nominees, producing one winner in each of the company’s 10 major markets to receive a $10,000 donation. Five additional top vote getters received a $5,000 donation.

The donations come at a time when the need for their services has never been greater.

Actively advancing the communities it serves was the driving force behind Guide the Giving, Bradshaw told American Banker. “While having values and talking about them is important, the key to success is in what the company does to live those values, whether that entails actively pursuing greater diversity in the senior ranks or manning food banks, it’s more about actions than words,” he said.

Bradshaw was interviewed after the annual American Banker/RepTrak Survey of Bank Reputations gave BOK Financial high scores in a number of categories including citizenship, leadership and workplace—where the company ranked first among the 40 largest U.S. banks.

The recent nationwide survey found that a bank having “a higher purpose” significantly drives reputation scores for customers and noncustomers alike.

Getting personal

Guide the Giving attracted a wide variety of nominations from employees. Many advocated for hunger relief organizations and those working to meet basic needs, which has been an important focus of BOK Financial’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One Phoenix employee, Rebekah Zeeuw, scored a $10,000 donation for Little Dreams Come True, an organization that supports a need she experienced personally.

Sherwood Autism Center received a $10,000 gift in Kansas City.

“For the better part of my childhood, I grew up in extreme poverty and was one of those children in need that Little Dreams Come True is trying to help,” Zeeuw said. “My siblings and I were recipients of free meals, clothing, shoes and transportation at the schools we attended, and without those acts of service and assistance from countless other organizations like this one, my siblings and I would have gone to school hungry, and without our basic essential needs met.

“I can personally attest that it is organizations like these that truly make a difference, one little dream at a time,” she said.

The donation will allow the organization to reach, serve and help many more children and families in need, said Ashley Dance, founder of Little Dreams Come True. She added, “We make little dreams come true, but we are hoping to make a forever BIG impact on a child’s life, to inspire others and to make a difference!”

Tulsa employee Christine McQueen serves on the board of Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, which received $10,000 to support their efforts to serve emergency food pantries, soup kitchens, child feeding programs, senior feeding programs and veteran’s initiatives. The donation will provide 40,000 meals.

“I am passionate about the food bank because the mission is so fundamental to a successful community,” said McQueen. “The thought of someone being hungry in my own ‘backyard’ is an awful reality, which I am actively working to change.”

She praised BOK Financial for making such an effort to support its communities while so many are struggling.

Connie Nance rallied votes to win a $5,000 donation for the Tulsa Dream Center, saying, “I spent many years of my own childhood growing up in North Tulsa and know firsthand what it feels like to be hungry and in need.”

The center plays an integral role in children's lives through education and necessities, but also with positive support through leadership and mentors for children who may or may not have the support at home, she said.

Nance said the organization was “just floored at the behind-the-scenes support they were receiving without even knowing about it.” They will use the funds to help families impacted by COVID-19 by supplying meals and necessities to children who are headed back to school.

Personal experience also drove Elizabeth O’Laughlin in Kansas City to rally support for the Sherwood Autism Center, which educates, equips and empowers children and adults with autism, as well as other developmental disabilities, to promote independence in family and community life.

“I am a parent advocate for a child with autism spectrum disorder,” O’Laughlin said. “The navigation of services for individuals with autism can be a very scary process. I found myself spending hours upon hours, which has turned into years researching and trying to decide what services are affordable and/or attainable.

“The ongoing rewards and challenges of supporting an individual on the spectrum is what continues to fuel my passion.”

One of the most important elements of Guide the Giving was for employees to be able to share their passions with one another, Bradshaw said. “It’s been challenging to be separated for all of this time, and we hoped this opportunity to support organizations that are near and dear to employees’ hearts would be a way we could come together to make a difference.”

The full list of organizations receiving donations through the Guide the Giving campaign are:
The New Mexico $10,000 winner was Casa Esperanza - New Mexico's House of Hope

Little Dreams Come True (Phoenix)
Arkansas Food Bank
Colorado Veterans Project
North Texas Food Bank
Junior Achievement of Chisholm Trail (Fort Worth)
Rescue America (Houston)
Sherwood Autism Center (Kansas City)
Casa Esperanza – New Mexico’s House of Hope
Infant Crisis Center (Oklahoma City)
Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma

$5,000 (all in Tulsa, Okla.)
Emergency Infant Services
Hospitality House of Tulsa
Tulsa Dream Center
Tulsa Habitat for Humanity