Business First

First Niagara Foundation continues giving, post-merger

First Niagara Foundation is following through on its commitment to continue grantmaking in Western New York despite the acquisition last year of its namesake, First Niagara Financial Group by KeyCorp.

The foundation announced Monday it has committed $2.8 million in grants over the first six months of 2017 to local nonprofit groups. The grants help lay to rest worries that nonprofits would lose a major source of charitable funding.

Elizabeth Gurney, executive director of the foundation, said board members are committed to continuing to support Western New York organizations as it spends down its $36 million in assets.

 “We won’t be around forever, but while we are here we will be supporting Western New York specifically, and more generously than we have been able to in the past,” she said.

Founded in 1998, the First Niagara Foundation supports education programs, mentoring, workforce development and neighborhood revitalization. Among the recipients of grants this year are four local Boys & Girls Clubs and the Lockport YMCA as well as Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, Westminster Economic Development Initiative Inc., and the Rural Outreach Center.

Last year, the foundation was ranked No. 18 on Buffalo Business First’s Top Foundations list among Western New York-based foundations in the region, with $5.1 million in grants paid out during 2015. ( See list below) In 2016, the foundation made grants totaling $4.6 million, including $1.2 to organizations in Western New York.

Though local agencies will be the primary beneficiaries, the foundation is also supporting select mentoring programs across the markets previously served by First Niagara Bank. At its May board meeting, the foundation board of directors committed $2.2 million over the next three years to 26 mentoring programs previously supported through its Mentoring Matters program across Upstate New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

In addition to ongoing grantmaking by the First Niagara Foundation, KeyBank has committed to increased giving through its own foundation, the KeyBank Foundation.

Following the acquisition, KeyCorp. contributed $20 million to the First Niagara Foundation, bringing total assets to $38 million. Since the two entities merged, First Niagara Foundation has committed about $5 million in total to nonprofit groups.

“I think there was a lot of confusion and concern we were going to go away when Key was taking over and what would happen,” Gurney said. “So this was a double message that Key was in fact looking to increase their presence here and increase their support, and First Niagara would be here to continue its support.”

Gary Crosby, former president and CEO of First Niagara Financial Group, now serves on the KeyCorp board and serves as board president for the First Niagara Foundation. He said the partnership between the two extends First Niagara’s record of making high-impact investments in its focus areas.