On the Monday before Thanksgiving at the Biltmore’s Coral Casino, Montecito Bank & Trust (MB&T) hosted one of the most heartwarming events of the year — its annual Community Dividends Awards luncheon. Through this awards program, the bank gives away $1 million to Santa Barbara and Ventura county nonprofits during the year and invites the recipients to the luncheon to express its gratitude for their important work.
Representatives from this year’s 188 grant recipients enjoyed networking and socializing with each other, bank associates, and boardmembers during an hour-long reception on the idyllic La Pacifica Ballroom Terrace. Then guests adjourned to the ballroom for a gourmet three-course Thanksgiving meal. Chair and CEO Janet Garufis welcomed and thanked the nonprofits for the important work that they do, including their collaborative efforts in the aftermath of the Thomas Fire and 1/9 Debris Flow. She praised the bank’s associates for their spirit of collaboration and support of one another and the community, noting the spirit of community that sets community banks apart from other financial institutions.
Founder Michael Towbes was widely known for his strong belief in the importance of giving back to the community, which he put into practice in myriad ways. Garufis paid tribute to him, noting how his legacy lives on in this wonderful tradition of giving and friendship that he created. She remarked on how Towbes would use the podium to encourage others to give back in meaningful ways and how carrying on his legacy is an honor and a privilege. She related how she knows she speaks for everyone at MB&T when she says that “we will continue to do our very best to carry on his vision, even if nobody is looking, and never let him down.”
In selecting grantees, the bank continues Towbes’ focus on youth and education, the arts, health, and social services. Grants typically range from $2,500 to $10,000. Over the past 16 years, MB&T has given away $16 million through this generous program.
During the morning of the luncheon each of the past few years, MB&T has hosted a seminar on a topic that organizations have indicated they want to learn about and this year was on advocacy. According to Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Executive Director Steve Windhager, the gift and networking are great, but so too are these seminars, which he sees as a great opportunity for nonprofit leaders to learn from a panel of experts about business topics relevant to their organizations.
MB&T’s extraordinary generosity goes beyond the Community Dividends program. It gives away another $300,000 annually through other avenues, including its Anniversary Grants program, in which employees select the grantees. MB&T also hosts educational forums for nonprofits, seniors, and businesses on financial literacy, scams, and cybersecurity. Its associates volunteer in a multitude of capacities, logging more than 5,100 hours annually.
Founded in 1975, MB&T has more than $1.4 billion in assets and 13 offices in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties offering an array of services for businesses and consumers. In 2017, it was named the Bank of the Year by Western Independent Bankers and in 2018 was named the #2 Best Bank to Work for by the American Banker Magazine.
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By Gail Arnold