A Culture of Giving

Community service begins from within at OakStar Bank

By Michael Lotti

For its president and CEO, OakStar Bank’s National Community Bank Service Award stems from its employees’ commitment to community banking: “Value starts and stops with the people in the organization, so we empower our people to explore their passions and take the lead,” offers Randy Johnson, pointing out that nearly all of OakStar Bank’s many charitable efforts and activities are initiated by employees or by members of its community in Springfield, Mo.

“Our community involvement is thriving without any formal policy or strategy,” Johnson adds proudly. “Our core values—our passion, really—all revolve around making the local community better through good banking and service.”

Unlike other recent National Community Bank Service Award recipients, OakStar Bank, a one-branch, $215 million-asset bank located at the tip of the Ozarks, was recognized for several community projects instead of just one.

Here are a few examples:

Suit Yourself Boutique. A project of the local United Way, the Suit Yourself Boutique stocks workplace clothing for women entering (or re-entering) the workforce. Opened in 2010, the boutique serves about 300 women per year “who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford necessary clothes for work,” says Megan Blevins, a resource development associate for United Way of the Ozarks. “And it wouldn’t be possible without OakStar’s $9,600 annual commitment. They’re getting women back to work.”

Blevins adds that OakStar Bank makes a further annual contribution to the United Way. The bank’s employees also donate much of their personal time to the organization.

Shoe Buddy Boxes. When Springfield’s Kiwanis Club wanted to help children in the Springfield schools, it approached OakStar Bank for money to promote its $25 boxes of fruit and candy that paid for two pairs of shoes. “They jumped right in,” says Rick Williams, coordinator of the Shoe Buddy Boxes program. “Their $2,000 contribution bought radio time, which ultimately led to sales that exceeded projections by 28 percent.”

The bank also made itself available as a place to pre-order boxes, and bank leadership bought Shoe Buddy Boxes as year-end gifts for their clients, bringing in another $11,000, Williams says. “And we got regular calls from Randy Johnson and other OakStar leaders, making sure the program was going well.”

Williams estimates that OakStar Bank supports about 35 percent of the Shoe Buddy Boxes program, which is expected to provide more than 1,200 pairs of shoes in 2013.

Healthy Place to Play. The Healthy Place to Play initiative, which aimed to raise $3.5 million to upgrade athletic facilities at Springfield’s five high schools and nine middle schools, needed a $120,000 kick-start—a need that OakStar Bank funded. “They were one of the first on board,” says Mark Fisher, director of athletics for the Springfield Public Schools. “OakStar has such a great reputation. So when other businesses and organizations heard that they were involved, most became donors.”

Jean Fridays. OakStar Bank has a longstanding tradition of employees “paying” to wear jeans on Fridays. “Anyone can wear jeans without contributing,” Johnson admits, but he notes that most staffers will drop something in the bucket when wearing their denims. The donations—about $250 to $500 per month—go to charities nominated by the employees themselves. Recent recipients include a local crisis shelter for children, an international relief organization and a nonprofit that helps persons with disabilities afford assistance dogs.

Johnson points out that OakStar Bank also makes many one-time and recurring gifts to organizations such as the Ozark Mountain Family YMCA, youth sports teams and even a church in Brazil connected to a missionary living in Springfield. He also says OakStar Bank’s charitable culture works well because its staff is so willing to help each other on projects, whether fixing up a Habitat for Humanity house or planting community trees.

“We served concessions at a football game once so that parents could watch their kids play,” Johnson recalls. “I don’t remember how we got involved in that, but I remember getting a stream of thank-you notes for two weeks.”

Johnson admits that OakStar Bank almost didn’t win recognition for its charitable efforts because he almost didn’t fill out ICBA’s application form. “It’s not like us to tell our story,” he says. “We prefer to use our resources for community service and let our reputation as a great community bank speak for itself.”

Michael Lotti is a writer in West St. Paul, Minn.