Key to the city

If you’ve ever been in downtown Cleveland on the day KeyCorp designates “Neighbors Make a Difference Day,” you may find yourself awash in a sea of KeyCorp T-shirts in what seems like a corporate coup d’etat.

In a sense, it is. Key employees leave their jobs and take over the city and surrounding areas for a half-day every year.

The result of “Neighbors Make a Difference Day” is that Key employees from all over the country volunteer approximately 40,000 hours, equal to nearly $1 million in salaries, to help where needed in their communities.

“We rake, paint, build and clean,” says CEO Henry Meyer. “This year we had 10,000 employees involved. That is almost half of the head count in the company.”

Of the 10,000 who volunteered, 3,000 were from Cleveland. They worked on the east, west and south sides of downtown, in communities that need their involvement. That’s one reason KeyCorp received a 2001 Pillar Award for Community Service.

Motivating 10,000 employees to give a half day of sweat equity is quite a feat. But just as impressive is Key’s latest United Way drive.

“This year, $4 million of the total Cleveland drive came from us. That is just under 10 percent of the total,” Meyer says. “That is incredible. And we even doubled the amount the No. 2 company gave.”

For Meyer, the numbers are just one example of the culture within his company and the city.

“That shows you the generosity, support and spirit that is in our headquarter city,” he says.

Key has also quickly and generously responded to the tragic events of Sept. 11 by announcing a two-for-one match for employees who give through the Key Foundation. For every dollar an employee gives, Key matches it with $2. Key has also extended a 10-cents-on-the-dollar match to all branch donations.

The fund is quickly approaching $3 million and puts Key in a class with other large corporate donors.

“We can stand shoulder to shoulder with any company in the country,” he says.

KeyCorp, the Key Foundation and McDonald Investments Foundation have together contributed more than $21 million to approximately 5,000 organizations nationwide; nearly 930 of those organizations are located in the greater Cleveland area. Key also raised nearly $5 million in corporate sponsorships for fine arts, exhibitions, family activities and sporting events.

Key is the largest bank in the Cleveland area and Meyer and his staff realize what onus that puts on the company.

“This is my headquarter city,” says Meyer, who sees Cleveland’s success intertwined with Key’s success. “We want pride in the city we call our home. I want a work force that can fill every level of job. I want good housing. And I want kids to graduate from school and have opportunities available to them.”

One of the areas in which Key supports Cleveland is community reinvestment. Last year, it invested more than $51 million in loans for community development projects. It also provided more than $35 million in loans to consumers to buy or improve homes.

And, philanthropy isn’t just a monetary commitment. Ninety percent of the company’s senior management is active on boards, although Meyer is quick to note that at the most recent “Neighbors Make a Difference Day,” 10,000 people took half a day to volunteer.

“Senior management sets the tone, but that wasn’t 10,000 senior managers participating,” he says.

It’s a culture, he says, that permeates throughout the entire organization.

“It’s not one individual,” Meyer stresses, adding that senior managers don’t strong-arm employees into participating. “We don’t pressure anyone, but we certainly encourage it.”

And, Meyer is quick to note that Key’s philanthropy has a history reaching back to its days as Society, as well as with his predecessor, Robert Gillespie.

“It is part of the culture, part of the tradition that CEOs before me have laid down as the way KeyCorp wants to operate,” he says. “Civic involvement is part of the job here.” How to reach: KeyCorp, (216) 689-3000 or

Kim Palmer ([email protected]) is managing editor of SBN Magazine.