Bank’s jeans days benefit area causes

Nicolet employees can skip business attire on paydays for a $5 fee

By Nancy Barthel
[email protected]

Nicolet Bank employees are showing how a simple donation of $5 each  payday can make a big difference in the community. Each payday at the bank’s 38 branches in Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, employees are welcome to wear blue jeans, but that choice does come at a small cost— $5.

Those twice-monthly donations have reaped big benefits for many community organizations and individuals in need during the past three years. Just this year alone, through mid- September, Nicolet’s 600 employees have raised $27,000 to support 22 different causes.

“We always had jeans days in our 19 years, but they always were sporadic,” said Jess Opelt, human resources specialist and recruiter at Nicolet’s corporate headquarters in Green Bay. Then, they started to align them with paydays and tie them into charitable causes. “Our employees really look forward to them to get away from the business attire,” but, she said, they also look forward to doing good in the community with their donations. A typical jeans day raises between $1,200 and $1,400 dollars, said Opelt, with some people even donating when their meetings that day require wearing business clothing.

So, how do they select which charity the donations will go to each particular payday? There is an online platform where employees can submit their suggestions for a charity or nonprofit organization or “a special project or a special situation going on,” she said. Oftentimes, employees are involved with the causes. “It’s fun for us as a bank to see all the things our employees are involved in,” Opelt said.

Sometimes the money goes to one particular endeavor, and sometimes, it is disbursed to two or three depending on the submissions that month. Opelt said she along with one or two other people usually make the decision on where the money will go. Generally, the way submissions come in, most submissions can be accommodated.

To provide an idea of the communities that Nicolet employees have impacted with donations, Opelt said, “We’re located in the Green Bay area, Door County, Fox Valley and Central Wisconsin as well. We have two branches in Wausau, we go as far west as Medford and we have one branch in the UP (Upper Peninsula of Michigan) as well.”

Here are just some of the recent donations that have been made by Nicolet employees.

In April, fire destroyed a historic building at 100 S. Broadway in De Pere, leaving people without homes and businesses without a storefront. Nicolet
employees donated to the relief fund that had been established.

Another organization benefited by Nicolet employees’ generosity is Door County Women: Invest Dream Achieve, a program which is supported by a
grant from the Women’s Fund of Door County. This program is dedicated to Door County women who want to achieve a higher education degree, become financially secure and obtain careers they will love. It is also in partnership with Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.

In the Fox Valley, donations were made to the back to-school fund of the Neenah Menasha Emergency Society (NMES), an all-volunteer organization that provides emergency financial assistance to residents living in Neenah and Menasha. Residents with emergency financial needs are referred to NMES by social service and other organizations after traditional forms of assistance have been exhausted or are not available.

Another “big one,” said Opelt, is the Never Forgotten Honor Flight, based in Wausau, which flies veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam to Washington D.C. for a day they will never forget to remind them that their service to the country was not forgotten. Veterans come from 13 northern Wisconsin counties. “That was something that Nicolet has sponsored before, something that was near and dear to our hearts,” Opelt said.

National Financial Literacy Month is recognized in the United States in April, and $1,300 was split that particular April jeans day between various chapters of Junior Achievement, which has as its purpose to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy.

On Sept. 6 donations were split between the American Heart Association’s Heart Walk in Green Bay and Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer, Inc. (MACC Fund), which is dedicated to funding childhood cancer and related blood-disorder research.

They have also donated to some of their own employees who have been in need. “We’re a family here,” she said. “We want to make sure we’re taking care of our employees.”

On the Thursday before Friday’s payday, a companywide announcement goes out to explain what cause was selected. “We send a little bit of background information so if a customer asks (why they are wearing jeans) … we explain what we’re doing,” Opelt said,. “It’s something that’s really important to Nicolet that we serve those communities that we are in … It allows us to spread awareness to our customers and to our employees.”

Nicolet employees’ service to the community also includes their Nicolet Volunteer Program, established a year and a-half ago, which allows employees to post the volunteer endeavors they are involved with. That then allows other employees to connect with them if they are interested in learning more. “Again, you see things that you never knew existed,” she said.

Then there is the Nicolet Foundation, which is funded entirely by employees to support community endeavors. “The culture here is unmatched,” Opelt said. She suggests other businesses consider setting up a similar jeans day program.

“Whether you have five employees or 600 like we do, you know the money raised is going to a good cause and making a difference,” Opelt said.

Reprinted with permission of The Business News©

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