How has your career prepared you for your current role?
My initial career was in international business working for an auction company and that helped in my ability to converse with high level executives and speaking in public. I think when it comes to what I do every day that is something that I grew up with but also in throughout my early career I became very involved with nonprofits and helping others
How are your bank's philanthropic activities — i.e., grants, impact investments, sponsorships, volunteerism — structured?
All of Wells Fargo’s grant making in each state is decentralized but we also have our housing foundation, regional foundation and the national foundation. Those three foundations work nationally and since those grants tend to be six-figure grants, they are approved by the board.
How has this work changed since the Great Recession?
It changed how we look at everything but also has brought much more strategic focus to our grant making around the country. Internally it has built a more cohesive unit as we have had to reevaluate job’s and job titles
What are the most important issues in the communities where you engage in philanthropy?
For my region of the Northwest the most important issues are affordable housing, Workforce development and education. Specific to education that focus is around graduation rates and how can our funding help with that.
What are your core strategies for addressing these issues?
Larger more focused grants that make a significant impact on certain communities. For example in King County we are focusing on South Seattle and providing larger grants to fewer organizations but providing those funds to nonprofits that have a proven track record of success.
What's been a big success for your bank's philanthropic activity?
First, our focus on relationships. We lead with curiosity, gratitude and patience. Those relationships continue to benefit our work over time. Second, investing in and otherwise supporting libraries as community hubs. The importance of their ever-expanding role, particularly in rural communities, cannot be overstated.
What's a big challenge for your philanthropic activities?
Seems like a small thing but it’s really that there are so many organizations doing great work but not enough money in the budget..
What’s one more question we should ask, and how would you answer it?
Q. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in this field?
A. Take the time to answer any and all questions, be very honest and never make promises you can’t keep. The more “real” connections you have in this field the more you will get those “heads up” calls which are important especially if you’re a funder of that organization. Don’t be somebody you’re not!
Mark Dederer is a senior vice president and community affairs program manager at Wells Fargo, joining us this month for our virtual roundtable with philanthropic banks. He also sits on Philanthropy Northwest's board of directors.