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The nationwide celebration of Community Banking Month in April reinforces our industry's special role

This month Badger Bank in Fort Atkinson, Wis., is co-sponsoring a family concert starring Doug Gabriel, a singing guitarist from Branson, Mo., and donating the proceeds to the School District of Cambridge music program.

"This is us trying to help our community," explains Steve Dehnert, CEO and president at Badger Bank, which has 54 employees at three branches and assets of $110 million. "We don't look at it as return on investment. It's what I consider a return on involvement. The bank is only going to be as strong as the community."

All year long, community banks build their brand by differentiating themselves from national and multinational banks. But in April, during Community Banking Month, they turn up the volume. Pizza parties. Food drives. Contests. While the activities differ, the message to the community is the same: We care.

During Community Banking Month, members of ICBA and its affiliated state community banking associations celebrate the vital role that community banks play in the economic, civic and cultural life of their cities and towns throughout America. Some community banks participate by partnering with local charities to host special events; others promote economic development initiatives. Many community banks traditionally mark the month by expanding their community service or financial education programs.

"Community Banking Month gives us an opportunity to honor our communities, and through our awards, those community banks that go above and beyond in improving the quality of life of their communities," says Chris Lorence, ICBA senior vice continued on page 56president/chief marketing officer. (For more on the ICBA community bank service awards, see page 59.)

Badger Bank's other activities during Community Banking Month include promoting local companies-encouraging people to buy products and services from businesses in the communities it serves. But to avoid the misperception that the events are a marketing ploy, the community bank won't track whether the concert or promotions encourage people to open new accounts.

"Getting our employees involved in the community, and the community with us, forms those relationships we work so hard [to develop] and spend so much money on through traditional advertising," says Dehnert.

Community Banking Month offers the opportunity to call attention to the good works that local banks, like Badger Bank, do every month-and to educate the public about the value of community investment and common-sense financial dealings.

Bankers' Bank Northeast, in Glastonbury, Conn., serves 200 community banks throughout the Northeast. The $105 million-asset bank presented DVDs of It's a Wonderful Life to its 31 employees and 58 investors last Christmas in hopes of generating creative ideas for this Community Banking Month, says Pete Sposito, the bank's president and CEO: "We received many positive responses from the mailing. People had fun with the classic movie.

"One of the initiatives our board decided to take on is being a visible proponent of the community bank concept," adds Sposito. His bank hired a marketing consultant to write articles for publication this month about the different ways community banks help neighborhoods. "It's very difficult and uncomfortable for a single community bank to publicize how it's different from Wall Street banks," he says. "As a bankers' bank, we're in a position to blow their horn for them."

Local variations

First National Bank of River Falls, Wis., which employs 85 people at four locations, plans on celebrating Community Banking Month in style again this year. The $300 million-asset bank budgeted about $1,500 to support a variety of activities throughout the month, says President and CEO Jeff Johnson.

During the first week of April, the bank will push its "Go Green" theme by encouraging customers to sign up for electronic services, such as e-statements, rewarding participants with a water bottle. …