Anytime there is a bank merger, there is worry about jobs and loss. However, KeyBank says it is keeping both its own charitable foundation and the First Niagara Foundation as separate entities.
"From the minute I heard about this acquisition, I said, 'Oh, we can't afford to lose a strong corporate citizen. There's too much need here'," said Elizabeth Gurney, who has been Executive Director of the First Niagara Foundation for nearly six years.
Then the good news came down: The First Niagara Foundation is not going away. It is remaining an independent entity.
"We're keeping the First Niagara Foundation and KeyBank is really stepping up as well, so I think it's a real win for this area." Gurney said.
Although First Niagara will operate separately, KeyBank will be a collaborator. KeyBank also has sweetened the pot, contributing $20 million to First Niagara's $16 million - nearly doubling its size. Gurney said 80 percent of those funds will remain in Western New York.
"Independence allows us to carry on the tradition of giving that we have come to establish and honor our roots as Lockport Savings and then as First Niagara," she said. "Since our introduction, we've given over $50 million through the foundation since we were established way back in 1998. This year, 2016, we gave about $4.5 million and that's where we were trying to get to on an annual basis."
As part of the announcement, First Niagara also announced a number of gifts to the community, including $1 million to the AK360 capital campaign of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Gurney said the Foundation will continue to work out of its Larkinville offices. Former First Niagara President and CEO Gary Crosby has been appointed President of the Foundation's six new Board members, which include several KeyBank executives.
Community organizations will apply for grants as usual. Its next grant cycle begins in January. However, she said the application form will change and giving criteria will be "tweaked" in the new year.
"We really try to focus on empowering individuals and neighborhoods," Gurney said. "We'll be focusing on education, workforce development and continuing our focus on mentoring and really just trying to strengthen this region by investing in organizations that are doing really great work to move our community forward."