Giving back! The Ulster Bank Staff Charity Fund

When you hear the word ‘bank’, you probably don’t associate it with the word ‘charity.’ But you should. For the last 25 years, Ulster Bank’s Staff Charity Fund in the Republic of Ireland has donated over €375,000 to various charities of all shapes and sizes.

Founded in 1993 by the then Director of Ulster, Sean O’Mahony, the Staff Charity Fund’s main objectives were to relieve poverty, advance education and improve the living conditions for those in necessitous circumstances. Since then, it’s moved from strength to strength, becoming an officially registered charity, able to make substantial donations to everything from large, international charities to local, community based projects.

Josephine Armstrong has been on the committee for the last ten years, and in 2017 was made Chairperson. I spoke with her about the background of the charity, those who benefit from their work and the importance of giving back to your local community and beyond.

Giving back to the community

‘Each regional franchise of Ulster, RBS and NatWest has its own version of charity groups in some capacity, and in Ulster Bank ROI, ours is funded by staff contributions from across the country.’

Many generous employees at Ulster Bank have elected to have a donation taken each month straight from their salaries. And not only that, but as part of their Giving campaign, RBS donates €50 for every new member, and an additional €25 if they’re recruited by an existing donor.

‘We use the Giving campaign as a focus to generate new donors every year. We currently have around 465 active donors, most of whom are employees at the bank, but we also have a loyal group of retired staff who still donate to the fund.’

‘So far this year for example, we’ve donated €3000 to the Special Olympics Ireland, and we made a donation of €5000 to the National Rehabilitation Hospital, which focuses on people with spinal injuries as a result of life altering accidents and so on.’

Giving campaign

The committee often decide to donate to more focussed charities that are important to people they work with.

‘A charity that is certainly close to my heart is the Cystic Fibrosis Association. Unfortunately, earlier in the year, we had a member of our own team in Products who sadly passed away from Cystic Fibrosis. So in his honour, we did some fundraising for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust in NI and made a donation of €3500 to the Cystic Fibrosis Association in the ROI.’

There’s also a contingency fund available for global catastrophes such as hurricanes or tsunamis where the charity would generally donate to The Irish Red Cross.

But it’s not just major organisations that get all the support, Josephine and the committee are dedicated to giving to small, community based charities as well.

Charities large and small

‘In addition to those big ticket charities we’re always looking to support some small charities and particularly country wide ones, not just your mainstream charities that operate in Dublin. I’ve got the nominations in at the moment, and there’s a little community child care facility down in Country Sligo, and they’re looking for some funding to renovate their garden. So in cases like this, one or two thousand euros can make an absolutely massive difference.’

I wanted to find out how the selection process works, and what the general remit of the Staff Charity Fund involves.

‘Generally speaking, we like to see that’s it’s a registered charity so that we know exactly where the funds are going. But a small number of our donations then would be personal cases that are brought to our attention by our employees. For example, we’ve had customers in a particular branch that have fallen on hard times due to illness or sudden events, and from time to time we get a nomination, and we take that into consideration.’

‘The committee is made up of, believe it or not, 30 members at the moment, and the reason we have such a wide ranging committee is that we’re very anxious that we have a representation from Dublin and most parts of the country to get a balanced view. We have a representation from the retired donors as well to make sure we’re keeping everyone’s view at the table.‘

Running a charity is no small amount of work. It takes time, organisation and often robust discussion about which charities are the most deserving of the funds. All of this, on top of day to day activities of Ulster Bank business. But Josephine tells me it’s all worth it.

‘It’s a very rewarding thing. There is work attached and we have to keep our accounts and so on, but we don’t spend a penny of the money that comes in from staff, it’s literally money in money out. The bank supports us in terms of getting our accounts audited every year, we don’t charge for any services, nor would we engage with anyone where there is a cost involved. So it is the purest form of a fund in that whatever comes in goes out to charitable causes.’

Thanks to Josephine, the committee and the compassionate donors at Ulster Bank, the Staff Charity Fund is able to give charities the tools they need to make a real difference to people’s lives, to relieve poverty, advance education, and improve living conditions for those in need.

Want to know other ways our colleagues give back to the community? Read about Ailis and her time with the Garda Reserves