Community Impact

Banks, financial institutions sponsor and help fund civic efforts throughout community

By Andy Meek

Attendees on the opening night of the Indie Memphis Film Festival a few weeks ago saw splashed on movie screens, before their features got underway, the logo of Memphis-based investment firm Duncan-Williams Inc. and its two-word motto of “Do Well.”

Evolve Bank & Trust's name was attached to the annual Cooper-Young Festival beginning this year. The bank committed to a three-year deal to serve as the first-ever title sponsor of the festival.

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

That phrase, firm president Duncan Williams is fond of telling audiences, perfectly encapsulates his company’s philosophy toward its charitable and civic efforts. “If Memphis does well, Duncan-Williams does well,” is how Williams often puts it.

It’s not just his firm, of course, pursuing that strategy. All manner of banks and financial services firms in Memphis are paying up to attach their names to events, arts endeavors and community initiatives, partly out of a desire to show that banking is about more than what goes on in an office or a bank branch.

The transactions may take place there, but that business’ brand and image extend beyond those four walls, out into the community.

“We tell people when we hire them – this is a company that’s involved in the community,” said Scott Stafford, president and CEO of Evolve Bank & Trust. “From the time when Evolve was just an idea on a napkin, we said then that once we had success, we’d want to make sure to give something back.”

To that end, in September, Evolve’s name was attached for the first time to the Cooper-Young Festival. The bank committed to a three-year deal to serve as the first-ever title sponsor of the festival, the largest single-day event in Memphis hosted each year by the Cooper-Young Business Association.

Evolve also is a supporter of 30 Days of Opera, a festival of free, short opera performances and related events that take place at neighborhood festivals, parks, and other public venues throughout Shelby County.

Also this year, Evolve announced its sponsorship of the University of Memphis women’s basketball program, committing to a three-year sponsorship with funds to help the program grow and the team to be a major competitor in its conference.

The bank in the past has also undertaken other initiatives, such as collections from employees for the needy and relief drives.

“We look around in the communities we serve and try to identify those things we can do to help the community,” Stafford said. “And also identify those things that could help customers. When we talk to organizations, we want to meet with the management team, Find out how committed they are and see what their vision is. And we’re always keeping our eye open to opportunities.”

Also keeping its eye open to such opportunities is Orion Federal Credit Union. Orion’s name includes a reference to a constellation, so it’s probably fitting the credit union recently signed on to be the title sponsor of Starry Nights, Shelby Farms Park Conservancy’s biggest annual fundraiser.

Orion Starry Nights will run from Nov. 29 through Dec. 27. Proceeds will benefit the conservancy’s efforts to preserve and promote the park. The festival of lights has been a Memphis tradition since MIFA first implemented the event in 1994.

Earlier this year, Duncan-Williams made a contribution to the Germantown Performing Arts Centre that includes naming rights for the main space at GPAC that encompasses the venue’s main stage area.

Williams was on hand for the announcement at GPAC of the sponsorship, along with his mother and firm co-chair Carolyn.

“Anytime we look at sponsoring something we ask, ‘Is this something we believe in and is it something that’s going to make this community better?’” Williams said, before explaining his firm’s wide-ranging investments in things like Indie Memphis and the Live at the Garden Concert series. “This was an easy sell.”

There are plenty of other local examples of firms doing the same thing. Like Raymond James Financial Inc., which this year announced its status as the first presenting sponsor of the RiverArtsFest.

First Tennessee Bank’s civic efforts include a charitable foundation, which has donated tens of millions of dollars to meet community needs since the foundation’s establishment in 1993.

Also in recent months, Memphis-based Southeastern Asset Management announced it’s taken a lead role in supporting the efforts of a new group in Memphis for aspiring music industry talent, The Consortium MMT. Southeastern’s support, coupled with additional support the consortium is hoping to receive, is set to help launch an outdoor soul music festival, the consortium announced in recent months, with more details to come later.

The consortium, founded by award-winning songwriter David Porter, is housed on the second floor of the Downtown Falls Building, in the offices of the Greater Memphis Chamber.