Not-So-Random Good Deeds: Another Housing Crisis Bad Actor Bank Giving for Financial Literacy


The SunTrust Foundation is starting a new award called “Lighting the Way” which provides $50,000 each to organizations that are advancing financial education, particularly in distressed communities.

It's hard not to feel ambivalent about the philanthropy of institutions like SunTrust. This is the same bank that agreed to a near $1 billion settlement for malfeasance during the housing crisis with the federal government in 2014. That settlement required the bank to compensate borrowers who had been given unfair interest rates or otherwise were financially mistreated by the bank.

The SunTrust Foundation's grantmaking strategy, it appears, is also about compensating in some measure for its part in the 2008 housing crisis. Like so many other big banks, it helped make a mess of the economy and now is sprinkling around philanthropic dollars here and there to organizations that are giving a hand to those harmed the most. And, as with quite a few other banks, the SunTrust Foundation, is keenly interested in teaching lower-income Americans how to get better about saving and managing money. That's an ironic focus of bank philanthropy given this sector's well-documented role in stripping wealth out of low-income communities with unscrupulous lending practices. Or maybe it's part of an ongoing mea culpa. 

Regardless, the SunTrust Foundation recently announced the awarding of eight $50,000 grants to local nonprofits working in financial literacy sector throughout the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic States.

This is not new grantmaking territory for SunTrust, which has made over $100 million in grants in financial well-being and education since its inception. Last year, the foundation granted $14.8 million to a variety of financial literacy organizations, with a particular emphasis on youth financial skill-building.

According to a press release from the foundation, winners were chosen based on five criteria: (1) ability to provide programs that support financial well-being, (2) program services and how those services are delivered, (3) total number of people served through the program in 2015, (4) program cost per client and other measures of efficiency, (5) measurable program outcomes, such as completion rate.

“We are truly committed to helping people move from financial stress to confidence and know that by supporting organizations with the same goals, we can make a difference in people’s lives,” said David Fuller, President of SunTrust Foundation, upon announcing the new granteesFrom the press release, the winners are:

Project Community Connections, Inc.: Since 2009, PCCI has re-housed thousands of men, women and children into permanent housing settings that meet their particular needs for location, price, and accessibility. The organization was selected as a Lighting the Way Award winner for the positive impact their rapid re-housing program has had in helping homeless individuals and families reestablish themselves in the community and find a place to call home.

Wake Technical Community College: For the past four years, Wake Tech’s Center for Financial Education has led a comprehensive campaign to raise financial capabilities and promote financial well-being by offering workshops that cover areas of money management, including credit, budgeting, entrepreneurship, financial psychology, banking, and investment basics. Last year alone, the center serviced more than 500 people and helped them take a step toward financial confidence.

Lighthouse of Central Florida: Lighthouse Works was established five years ago as a program dedicated to providing those who would otherwise be unemployed, underemployed or out of the workforce entirely with the confidence and ability they need to earn a living wage. Through the Lighthouse Works program, individuals who are blind and visually impaired are able to receive job training, employment and career opportunities.

Capital Area Asset Builders: CAAB’s Matched Savings Program empowers low- and moderate-income residents to take control of their finances, increase their savings and build wealth for a better future. Since 1997, the Matched Savings Program has worked to ensure all local residents have opportunities to save and invest in their dreams. Currently, more than 2,000 people are enrolled in the program and have successfully reached their savings goals.

The Center for Technology, Enterprise and Development: The TED Center’s Florida Women’s Business Center has provided thousands of women entrepreneurs with counseling, mentoring, training, resources, referrals and support to help increase their chances of success. At the center, women have access to ongoing counseling sessions that are tailored to their specific needs and hosted by seasoned business owners and corporate professionals.

Family Foundations of Northeast Florida, Inc.: Family Foundations has helped over 120,000 families take control of their financial future, buy a first home, pay off debts and restore their credit by offering credit counseling and financial education classes to its residents. These classes help families become wiser and more confident as they learn to manage their money and secured their financial future.

PARC: Through its Life Skills Development Financial Literacy Project, PARC helps prepare individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to be self-sufficient and capable of living their life to their fullest potential. Since 1953, the organization has served more than 800 children and adults with developmental disabilities in the Tampa Bay area.

Goodwill Industries of the Valleys: The Reality Check Program offered by Goodwill Industries of the Valleys helps young adults – particularly middle and high school students – learn how to make positive financial decisions. The Goodwill Reality Check initiative is an interactive program that puts students in real life situations and asks them to make financial choices. Last year alone the program had over 30 schools and approximately 4,600 students participate in the program.