May 25, 2024
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Philanthropy means giving time as well as money


Michael Towbes announces Montecito Bank & Trust’s award of $1 million to local groups.

Michael Towbes announces Montecito Bank & Trust’s award of $1 million to 184 nonprofit organizations on Nov. 23.

A common thread at two recent philanthropic events in the Tri-Counties was the idea that individuals should get involved personally rather than simply donating money.

On Nov. 19, the Association of Fundraising Professionals celebrated community members in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties who have been active in volunteering or organizing support for community institutions.

On Nov. 23, Montecito Bank & Trust — which doles out $1 million in charitable donations every year as part of its Community Dividends program — gave money to 184 nonprofit organizations.

“While Community Dividends is the largest and most prominent part of our community support, our corporate philosophy extends well beyond this, both in terms of donations and the volunteerism of our staff,” said Michael Towbes, chairman and director of the bank.

In 2015, Montecito employees donated more than 1,800 hours by serving on boards, offering financial expertise, fundraising and volunteering.

“Each year, they focus on supporting their employees volunteering their time to an organization,” said Lisa Dosch, executive director of the American Heart Association for the Central Coast, which received a donation through the program. “It’s an opportunity for us to celebrate their partnership with us.”

Volunteerism is a priority as early on as the hiring process and there is an internal submission process for employees who want to advocate for nonprofit groups to receive a share of the Community Dividends funding, said Jamie Perez, associate vice president of the bank and community outreach and events manager.

“Everyone gets involved,” Perez said. “It’s definitely part of our DNA. If an employee has an event that they’re involved with or a school they want to support, they can submit a request for donation and that gives a leg up to the organization because we want to support the things that our employees care about.”

Held at the Four Seasons Biltmore hotel in Santa Barbara, the 13th annual Montecito Bank & Trust luncheon honored nonprofits that support low- to moderate-income groups in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties with programs focusing on health and medical services, youth and education, the arts or social services that provide for basic needs.

Many of the organizations that received checks had participated in Community Dividends funding in previous years. Recently, though, Towbes has taken steps to rotate awardees and make room for new or previously unrecognized groups, Perez said.

“It’s always evolving,” she said. “It’s kind of a message that he’s told so they know and appreciate that it happens. We try to make sure that they know that there’s never any promises.”

Nominations for the AFP awards also came from within the community and some, like that of Gerd Jordano, who was named Volunteer of the Year for Santa Barbara County, were shared aloud.

“Gerd is one of those one-name names,” the nomination read. “When we hear that Gerd is chairing an event, no one asks ‘Gerd who?’ The rest of the world has Sting, Cher, Madonna. We have Gerd.”

Joanie Young, who was named Volunteer of the Year for Ventura County, told a story about childhood fundraising as she accepted the award.

The atmosphere of giving within the community is what enables them to create and organize so many projects, Young said, and other speakers highlighted the importance of maintaining relationships within a community when it comes to making a difference through philanthropy.

“You are the folks who have been our teammates and have been in the trenches with us,” said Mark Lisagor, who was named Philanthropist of the Year for Ventura County alongside his wife Terri. “We have together shared that passion and, more exciting, seen young people take that charge. After we’re long gone, they will carry on these philanthropic causes.”

Montecito Bank & Trust President and CEO Janet Garufis — who was honored as a Volunteer of the Year at the 2014 AFP luncheon — will become vice president of the Community Depository Institutions Advisory Council next year, Towbes announced before the checks were distributed to attendees. The CDIAC represents local lending institutions to the Federal Reserve, and Garufis will eventually chair the committee as a representative of the 12th Federal Reserve district in 2017.

“I just celebrated 11 years with Montecito Bank & Trust and the very first event I attended was Community Dividends,” Garufis said. “I remember how proud I felt to be part of an organization that truly lived its values. There is no better way to encourage philanthropy than to model the way.”

As the bank expands, there has been talk of increasing the Community Dividends budget, Perez said. Throughout the year, the bank also offers sponsorships, grants and donations outside the program.

“This is our 13th year and, as a lot of you know, a lot of hotels don’t have a 13th floor,” Towbes told representatives of the 184 organizations. “They skip 13. We never seriously considered skipping the 13th year because we think this is going to be a good year for all of you.”

• Contact Marissa Nall at