When Laserfiche, the Long Beach-based software company, formalized its corporate social responsibility program in 2019, the company had no idea that a global pandemic would soon upend the way people interact—and the need for charitable giving.
The company’s charitable donations continued throughout COVID, but according to the program’s manager, Noel Payne, its volunteer program had to shift.
The company’s philanthropic “strategy hasn’t changed, but the way we gave back has changed,” she said. “The pandemic didn’t hinder us from giving back, but employees started to volunteer remotely or with social distancing out in the community.”
Some events—like a monthly dinner that Laserfiche employees serve at the Long Beach Rescue Mission—at times had to be canceled or rescheduled. But Payne said that when employees couldn’t safely serve the meal in person, Laserfiche still made sure to sponsor the meal.
I spoke to Payne because I was curious about what a relatively new philanthropic effort in one of Long Beach’s best-known companies looks like right now.
But I also wanted to hear about charitable giving from one of Long Beach’s oldest companies.
Daniel Walker, CEO of the 115-year-old Farmers & Merchants Bank, and Christine Walker-Bowman, co-president of the F&M Bank Foundation, told me that COVID helped sharpen the focus on the community’s biggest needs.
The pandemic “didn’t impact us—it more motivated us to understand that the work environment had changed,” Walker-Bowman told me, “and we needed to figure out how we could best aid the nonprofits that were having to interact with the public.”
Every year, the foundation—which was launched in 2012, Walker and Walker-Bowman said, as a way to formalize the bank’s century-old commitment to giving back—picks a focus area for its philanthropic efforts. This year, that focus is human services, which Walker-Bowman said was chosen in part because of the pandemic’s fallout.
“We chose human services as our focus for 2022 because we felt that’s where we could make the biggest impact,” she said. “So what that means is: We’re looking at homelessness initiatives. We’re looking at food service. We’re looking at medical care for the disabled, and I think we’re also looking at mental health.”
Laserfiche, meanwhile, chooses which causes to support based on how they align with the company’s mission.
“We support many local nonprofits,” Payne said, “and kind of how we decide is that we look at partners whose mission and vision is in alignment with our mission and vision and our [corporate social responsibility] pillars, which are: diversity, equity and inclusion; the environment; and the next generation.”
In terms of what that means in practice, Payne said Laserfiche has partnerships with organizations like the tree-planting initiative I Dig Long Beach, the LGBTQ Center Long Beach and the YMCA of Greater Long Beach.
Laserfiche’s work with the YMCA in particular is wide-ranging. The company sponsors the lounge area in the nonprofit’s new home in the Spark At Midtown and provides career and technology workshops there.
“I love the spark in the kids’ eyes,” Payne said of the YMCA’s Youth Institute.
“They particularly focus on underserved communities and higher-risk youth,” she added, “so I think that’s a really impactful partnership.”
That focus on the next generation is also apparent in Farmers & Merchants’ partnerships.
Walker-Bowman highlighted the nonprofit Ground Education, which builds gardens in local schools to help facilitate science education in nature. This past November, the foundation funded and built raised garden beds at Roosevelt Elementary School in Long Beach through the nonprofit.
She also pointed to a long-standing partnership with the Long Beach Public Library Foundation. While the bank and the library foundation have a relationship dating back to 2005, Walker-Bowman said the most recent Farmers & Merchants initiative was to underwrite the donation of dictionaries to every third-grader in the Long Beach Unified School District.
Walker-Bowman said she got to see the impact of those dictionaries firsthand at Lincoln Elementary School.
“It was really enlightening to see,” she said. “It was a tool that they really found value in.”
While the two companies may represent very different aspects of the Long Beach economy—old and new, tradition and innovation—they’re both pillars in this city, and they both take seriously their responsibility to give back to the community.
Laserfiche, for its part, has packed more than 2,000 boxes with the nonprofit Food Finders, picked up more than 200 pounds of trash from local beaches, diverted more than 20,000 pounds of e-waste from landfills and racked up more than 1,500 volunteer hours—all since its corporate social responsibility program was finalized in 2019.
The F&M Bank Foundation, meanwhile, has donated over $2.5 million since its inception, including $448,581 that went to 104 recipients last year, according to the bank’s 2021 Community Impact Report.
For Walker-Bowman, the foundation’s work is simply a continuation of the bank’s philanthropic tradition.
“At the F&M Bank Foundation, our desire is to really extend our heritage that was created by [the bank’s founder] C.J. Walker and make that last forever,” she said. “He was a pioneer in thinking that he could make a difference when he saw that things were bad, and I think that at F&M, we want to be that source of light for the communities that we serve—that we can aid them in making a difference, help them in creating new products, new services and new places for people to enjoy.
“The foundation is focused on trying to make other nonprofits that are doing good have sustainability,” Walker-Bowman added, “so that they can continue to do their good works for years to come. We’re very blessed, and we feel a responsibility for those blessings to continue.”