Charity begins at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul
When charities seek financial services, they sometimes feel like second-class businesses, served by less-seasoned professionals than their for-profit counterparts.
Ryan Carney, chief advancement officer for The Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s (SVDP) National Council, says his experience with Commerce Bank has been just the opposite.
“To our bankers, we are not an afterthought,” says Carney, who worked with Commerce Bank at the local SVDP Archdiocesan Council of St. Louis before joining the SVDP’s National Council in 2021. Commerce has served the local council since 1978 and the national organizations’ banking needs since 2005.
“Commerce has an entire, first-class team dedicated to organizations like ours,” says Carney. “When we have a call, at least two or three people from the team participate. Each one has taken the time to learn our business, understand our challenges and provide truly valuable solutions.”
The “business” of SVDP, a parish-based Catholic lay organization, is providing emergency financial and other assistance to local neighbors in need. Headquartered in Maryland Heights, Mo., the SVDP National Council provides leadership and support to nearly 90,000 “Vincentians” – Catholic parishioners who participate in nearly 4,500 parish-based SVDP chapters in eight regions across the country.
“What makes Commerce a good financial partner is that they are on our mission with us,” says Carney. “They are willing to get in the trenches with us, so we succeed together.”
When the SVDP National Council needed a new building in 2019, Commerce provided financing for its acquisition. Understanding the seasonal nature of its fundraising, the bank has extended the nonprofit a line of credit to meet its operating needs. Commerce also maintains the SVDP National Council’s operating accounts and serves its other banking needs.
Solving a back-office fundraising challenge.
One of those “other needs” received Carney’s attention soon after he moved to the SVDP National Council in 2021.
“We are blessed with more than 12,000 people nationwide who respond to our requests for donations,” he explains. Their generosity picks up dramatically during the holiday season when donations quadruple.
Back at the charity’s headquarters, the back-end processing of those donations posed a challenge.
A time study found the sole database employee typically spent 40 hours a month at the mail table, opening and processing donation checks, before entering donor information in a database. That was during a normal month. During the holiday season – November through January – the time commitment grew to as many as 60 hours a month, with others pitching in to help.
“There had to be a better way,” says Carney. He picked up the phone and called Commerce Bank to find it.
After listening to the charity’s dilemma, the Commerce team recommended a retail lockbox. Rather than SVDP staff opening checks, they would go directly to Commerce for deposit. Commerce would then provide donor payment information that could be entered into the nonprofit’s database.
“The lockbox immediately slashed the time we were spending on donation processing,” says Carney. “It also freed up our back office so staff could spend more time on data analysis.”
By reallocating the database staffer’s time, the charity was able to segment donors by the amount and frequency of their donations. That made it possible to identify additional fundraising opportunities and more effectively target donor communications.
For the current fundraising season, Commerce has also automated the charity’s appeals, enabling it to now accept and process credit card donations.
“There was an opportunity cost to opening all those envelopes,” says Carney. “Updating our systems resulted in a more engaged team that could make a better use of their time, improving our fundraising efforts.”
“Commerce understood all this,” says Carney. “They are a true collaborator, with a culture, values and guiding principles that align with our own.”
“We’re not the bank’s biggest customer,” he says, “but we appreciate that we are treated like we are.”