Sunflower Bank is making change for schools

First National 1870 Staff
Sunflower Bank, known as First National 1870 in New Mexico and Texas, generates thousands for schools, like this 2019 donation to Sante Fe Public Schools, through the ABC Program.

For two decades, Sunflower Bank has empowered customers to raise money for schools in their community. These efforts have generated more than $1.4 million for schools and started financial conversations among students.

By Tiffany Lukk

When it comes to supporting its community, Sunflower Bank is at the top of its class. The $5 billion-asset community bank recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of its ABC Program, which generates funds for local schools, educators and students.

The program gives customers the ability to raise money for a school of their choice. With each swipe of the Denver-based community bank’s debit card, the school of the customer’s choice earns two cents courtesy of Sunflower Bank, known as First National 1870 or Guardian Mortgage in some markets.

While a couple of cents may not seem like much, it adds up. Since the program’s inception in 2001, Sunflower Bank has donated more than $1.4 million for schools and students in Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, New Mexico and Texas. During occasional flash sales, schools can earn up to four cents per transaction, and new accounts opened during the sale earn the customer’s choice of registered school a $50 donation. Some schools have earned nearly $20,000 in a single year.

“I think we’re very fortunate to have the ABC Program,” says Jessica Slattery, Sunflower Bank’s regional retail manager. “It has been very successful and has allowed us to really contribute and support their cause and help with funding, because we know budgets are very tight all around for school districts.”

For the first 18 years of the program, cardholders could earn donations for their school during only a certain number of months out of the year. But over the past two years, this part of the program has become year-round, allowing for more participation and fundraising.

“At the end of the day, part of this program is an encouragement to use your debit card,” says Cheryl Campbell, market president for Salina, Kan. “You want people to always feel good about when they’re using it. Not just the two months a year.”

Schools can use the funding however they see fit, whether it’s for supplies, emergency kits or parties. In 2020, the added support was particularly important. With some teachers using their own money to buy school supplies, the donations they receive can make a huge difference.

Starting financial conversations

The ABC Program is not just for schools, but for kids, too. The biggest financial draw for students is a chance to be rewarded for good grades. Twice a year, students can bring their report cards into a Sunflower Bank branch where they’re entered into a drawing to win $10 for each “A,” up to $100.

“I’m going to tell you that $100 to children is a huge amount of money,” Slattery says. “They would think they’re winning a grand prize in the lottery that they are stoked about.”

To build excitement with the students around report card drawings, Sunflower Bank organizes school assemblies, half-time sports shows and opportunities to meet its mascot, Bubba the Bear. These events are fun for kids, but they also lead to early financial literacy conversations with students of all ages.

“I think [the program] helped spark some of the conversations we used to have when doing the school assembly [events], especially at the elementary [school level],” Slattery says. These conversations have included topics like, “What are you going to do with your [drawing prize]?” and “How are you going to save?”


Getting the community engaged

At the start of each year and on an ongoing basis, Sunflower Bank speaks with school officials to make sure they understand how the program works and how they can engage students. Getting the parents involved is also incredibly important, Campbell says.

“The biggest thing of this campaign—and I think you would hear that from parents today—is that it wasn’t just Sunflower Bank that [powered the program],” she says. “It was them as parents doing their part—swiping their card and helping in that way that parents can actually help their students as well.”

The program is particularly successful once parents are engaged and asking questions about what the funds can do for their schools. “I think that the excitement really starts building,” Slattery says. “Once you get that feedback going, it’s just like wildfire.”

Sunflower Bank has run many community outreach programs over the years, but the ABC Program is one of its most successful. It also closely aligns with its mission.

“It’s just a responsibility for all business members in the community that we’re engaged with our community,” Slattery says. “We know what’s going on with our schools, we know what’s going on with our city and our county, and we are engaged in supporting them and partnering with all of them.”

Tiffany Lukk is associate editor of Independent Banker.