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Bank Foundation Focuses on Community Well-Being: Interview with Lori Ward


By: Treacy Colbert, Brand Ave. Studios Contributing Writer

Bank Foundation Focuses on Community Well-Being: Interview with Lori Ward

Rickety bleachers in a school gym replaced with sturdy new ones. A drinking fountain and charging station on a bike trail. A smartboard to enhance a school special education department. New window blinds and chairs to improve a senior center.

This is just a handful of the projects the First Federal Foundation has funded in the last year. Established in 2003, the foundation is part of First Federal Bank’s deep commitment to the well-being and quality of life of people who live and work in the communities the bank serves. Funded by the bank, the foundation focuses its philanthropic efforts on local causes, having awarded more than $1.3 million since it was established. As the Magic Valley and Treasure Valley continue to grow, the foundation plays an increasingly important role in supporting community projects.

“First Federal Bank is a mutual bank owned by its depositors,” said Lori Ward, President of the First Federal Foundation Board of Directors. “The bank takes the community aspect very seriously.”

The foundation has two grant funding cycles a year, one in late spring and one in early winter, totaling over $100,000 in support annually. Individual grants are typically between $1,000 and $5,000, dispersed to numerous non-profits with varying needs, Ward said. “We have a long list of really worthy, fascinating, impactful grants the foundation has made.”

Local Grants with Maximum Impact

“We emphasize projects where we can make a big difference,” she said. Ward cited one example of a foundation grant to a small nonprofit that made blankets for foster children. “This nonprofit was started in a garage. We were asked for funding for fabric and made that grant,” Ward said. The small, local nonprofit grew into a larger national effort that now partners with other nonprofits to provide beds as well as blankets, according to Ward. “The seed money had a big impact,” she said.

Simple Process, Personalized Attention

The First Federal Foundation Board of Directors consists of bank employees and community members who review grant applications and decide on funding, Ward said. The foundation typically receives between 30 and 50 applications during each funding cycle. “The board reads and discusses every single application,” she said.

Unlike large foundations with rigorous, time-consuming application processes that can be intimidating, the bank foundation’s application process is simple and straightforward. “The applicant must be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization,” Ward said. “We require a description of the project, the budget and estimated costs, and letters of support.” Applicants who need help with the process can contact First Federal Bank and “talk to a real person,” Ward said.

The board is actively involved in the foundation’s activities, with members taking significant pride in the opportunity to create lasting community impact, she said. “It’s a delight to be able to reflect the needs and requests of Southern Idaho.”

Apply for Support

Ward has served on many foundation boards, but the First Federal Foundation holds a special place in her heart. “I’ve been on as many as four foundation boards at a time,” she said. “The First Federal Foundation stands out as my all-time favorite, with the most altruistic and enjoyable group of people to work with.”

If you are a part of a non-profit or know of one that could benefit from First Federal Foundation support, visit the First Federal Foundation page  for funding guidelines, a list of previously supported projects and additional information about the foundation.

Interview with: Lori Ward, Director of First Federal Bank and First Federal Foundation President