Community service has been an important part of the culture at Cedar Rapids Bank & Trust since it was founded in 2001.
“Community is at the core of who we are,” said Wendy Nielsen, first vice president of marketing & public relations. In 2018, CRBT staff spent about 7,000 hours volunteering in the community, often during the workday. “The philosophy of the bank has always been that we’re going to allow employees to get involved during bank hours,” Nielsen said.
The bank has some creative ways to make this work. One way is by bringing nonprofits in for lunch and learn events, which gives CRBT staff a convenient way to learn about volunteering opportunities while they’re at work. Cedar Rapids Bank & Trust also incorporated community service into their annual retreat for the first time last fall. “We dedicated the second half of the retreat to volunteering,” Nielsen said. Staff scattered out to 12 area nonprofits such as Waypoint, where Nielsen and others spent the afternoon putting together hygiene kits. She said they received great feedback from staff and plan to keep this format for future retreats.
Nielsen said CRBT recognizes the importance of community service, even when it means fewer hours in the office. “We feel a responsibility to give back and do the right thing,” she said. Serving the community is one of the core values of the bank, and Nielsen said it isn’t something they take lightly. The bank recently rolled out a community engagement committee, which identifies one nonprofit partner to focus on each month. With so many options to choose from in the area, the committee helps focus volunteering and giving efforts. “We want to play an active role in helping our community thrive,” Nielsen said.
The community-focused mentality is part of the reason that Nielsen, who started with the company 18 years ago, has stayed at the bank for so long. “I can see myself being a lifer,” Nielsen said. The day we met, she was getting ready to head to a meeting with United Way and was also preparing to teach a Junior Achievement class later in the week. Nielsen said people sometimes remind her that she’s lucky because not all companies allow time for volunteering. “I feel fortunate. The bank drove why I’m as involved as I am,” she said.
Her favorite community outreach event — CRBT Movies on the Riverbank — is currently in its 15th year.
“We wanted to come up with something awesome, free and family-focused for the community,” Nielsen said. The event used to be held in the parking lot of the downtown branch before the completion of the McGrath Amphitheatre. The amphitheater’s location on the Cedar River gives the bank staff a fantastic view of the city they’re serving. “I love being there when it’s finally dark enough to see the Cedar Rapids skyline,” Nielsen said.