Innovating New Approaches to Charitable Giving with Mike Rizer of Ally Financial

May 30, 2024

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Mike Rizer is the executive director of corporate citizenship at Ally Financial and president of the Ally Charitable Foundation. He has over 25 years of experience in financial services with large institutions and has demonstrated leadership in various areas, including overseeing the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), fair lending practices, community development, foundations, volunteerism and all aspects of corporate social responsibility. Most recently, he was executive vice president and director of community relations at Wells Fargo and served as vice president of its foundation.

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John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian. I’m so excited to have with us today, Mike Rizer. He’s the Executive Director of Corporate Citizenship at Ally Financial and the president of the Ally Charitable Foundation. Welcome, Mike to the Impact Podcast.

Mike Rizer: Thank you, John. It’s great to be here.

John: Hey, before we get talking about all this important work that you’re doing with your colleagues at Ally Financial, can you share, Mike, a little bit about your background? Where did you grow up, and how did you get on this very inspirational journey that you’re on?

Mike: Well, sure. I’ll do it very briefly. I grew up in a town called Springfield, Ohio. I wanted to be an attorney. I went to law school in Cincinnati and practiced with a legal services program. I really wanted to help those folks who were on the margins and needed assistance. I loved that work and did it for six years. But it’s difficult to do with a lot of school loans. And I looked for other paths that would allow me to give back to communities that were perhaps a little more lucrative. I found out that banks do really great work in the community both from a philanthropic point of view, but also the investments that they do and where they put their branches, and the kind of programs they have.

So, I joined a bank this was the early 90s. I got lucky, John, because this whole world of corporate citizenship was just beginning to be [crosstalk] in America and grow. Every time I was ready for the next challenge, there was more coming on, and the definition of corporate citizenship was growing. I’ve had a great career through several banks before I came to Ally about four and a half years ago, working in this space of charitable giving, volunteerism, the environment, et cetera. It’s just been a really rewarding career.

John: Mike, is someone with a heart like yours born that way? Or is it something from your parents, grandparents, or some teachers along the way? Where do you get that heart of giving back and thinking about others than just yourself? Because literally, from the beginning of your career to now, this has been your journey. Where did that come from?

Mike: Yeah. Well, that’s a very gracious question. I’m not really sure. I think I had some real lighthouses in my life to your point that were teachers or people of faith. Something resonated with me, and I’ve been fortunate.

John: That’s awesome. Let’s just give the macro on Ally Financial before we get into all the specifics.

Mike: Yeah.

John: How big is Ally Financial? My understanding is you have 11 million plus customers.

Mike: That’s correct. The thumbnail is Ally is the largest all-digital bank in the country.

John: Wow.

Mike: We have about 11,000 employees or so about the 20th largest bank in the country. We are very people-focused. We try to live our name. We really try to be an ally, John. We’re an ally to our employees. What we find is that they are in turn allies to our customers and our communities.

John: You and I get on an elevator, and we’re going to the 50th floor of a big high-rise in any city, USA. We shake hands and we exchange pleasantries, and ask you, “Well, who do you work for?” You say, “Ally Financial or Ally Bank?” I say, “Okay, what’s your bank’s mission? Give me the elevator pitch on your bank’s mission.

Mike: Yeah, Ally’s mission is to serve our customers online virtually. So any place in the country or virtually, any place in the country, to service their needs. We’re a consumer bank primarily. Because we don’t have a branch network, we have a lower cost and we’re able to provide more in the way of interest, so we work hard. We’re very much a financial education bank. We work hard to help our customers understand their money and then save. We’ve got lots of programs that put buckets of money away for a wedding or for college education. We really take that to heart in the way that we interact with our customers and help them really be an integral part of their lives.

John: That’s great. As you just said, all the real estate assets that drag you down, you get to focus on your customers first. That’s lovely.

Mike: Yes.

John: Talk a little bit about the approach that Ally takes with your leadership on charitable giving, and how does your role interrelate with that. Because you’re the president of the charitable foundation, but you’re also the director of corporate citizenship. Talk a little bit about the intersection of both and then how does charitable giving work within your bank’s structure?

Mike: Sure. A minute ago I talked about really our culture. One fact I would tell you that’s so impressive is that, as I mentioned, we really lead with our people and our people really are anxious to serve in our communities. Last year, for example, they logged 60,000 hours working out in our community, and that’s a great number, but what’s really impressive about that is one in two employees did that. So 50% of our employees were out in the communities working with our nonprofit partners, giving back, and that’s about double the national average of volunteerism.

John: Wow.

Mike: There’s a real culture here, frankly. So part of what my group does is really help connect people with their passion. We say, “Follow your heart,” but we’ll create these opportunities, whether it’s reading in a classroom, building a habitat home, or filling a backpack for an afterschool program. But to zoom out a little bit, John, that’s one of the pieces of what we do volunteerism. The other two big pieces of our work, one is in giving, we gave out last year about $25 million. We focus that giving in three areas, affordable housing, workforce development, whether that’s getting ready for college or a trade for a good job, then the third one is financial education. Because we know in too few households, financial education isn’t talked about how to balance a checkbook or how to save isn’t talked about at our kitchen tables sometimes. We know that’s really important. So affordable housing, workforce development, and financial education are the three focus areas of where we give. We do some programmatic work in financial education as well. So, let me pause there. That’s a kind of a quick overview of our corporate citizenship approach.

John: With your 11 million clients, I assume those clients are spread out throughout all 50 states.

Mike: Yes, sir. Yeah.

John: How do you look at the world in terms of charitable giving and how do you create some sort of balance in terms of how your giving is done with regards to geography?

Mike: That’s a great question. We really believe in relationships, and we really think that it’s important to be proximate to where our dollars are. We’ve got two big, what we call, our hometowns of Detroit and Charlotte. We do most of our giving there is we have large employee bases in those cities. So we’re able to know the nonprofits that we’re working with, we understand the impact that we’re having, we’re able to go out and visit them. So most of our giving is in those two cities of Detroit and Charlotte.

John: Understood. There are a lot of young people that are coming out of college, high school, or even graduate school now, that listen to great leaders like you and start getting really inspired. There’s a generation now that wants to make a paycheck but also make a difference. Talk a little bit about your journey. Tie it back to when you went to law school. How much importance now should be given on classic education versus the field education for those who want to really make a difference in their communities?

Mike: That’s a big question, John. I think there’s a couple of, let me unpack two parts of that.

John: Okay.

Mike: First of all, you make a great point. When I came out of school, these careers didn’t exist, right?

John: Correct.

Mike: It’s terrific now that they do, and young people understand that these are options when they come out. I think the second part of your question is, it really takes all kinds, right? I’ve got people on my team who maybe might have worked in a nonprofit like United Way but might have worked in a company and supply chain, or been a school teacher. I think that there’s no certain path, and I think it is though it’s to understand the community and have empathy and passion for the community, but it’s also important to understand some aspects of the business because you’ve always got to have that credibility in-house, right? To be able to take bold steps externally and have the faith of the company behind you when you want to make some investments in the community.

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John: Understood. You talk about your 11,000 employees and the engagement that you got. Is there some secret to getting employee engagement because there seems that post-COVID, that’s one of the greatest challenges that all leaders have, of course, in corporate America and actually across the world in terms of employee engagement? There seems to be more disengagement since society as a whole has gotten more disengaged and more isolated because of the wonders and the beauties of technology. Not a knock on technology, but a little bit of a downside of technology.

Mike: Right.

John: Talk a little bit about, since you are an online bank, what’s some of the secrets of your success of getting so much employee engagement, not only in the substantive work of what they’re doing with regards to making Ally Financial such a successful bank but also the charitable work you’re doing and making that such a success concurrently?

Mike: Yeah, that’s a great question, right? It’s a really important question for our time. I will tell you, it all goes back to leadership as everything always does, right? We’ve got a culture here, and leaders from the top hold each other and they hold all of us leaders accountable to which is, we’re here and held to rigor around our performance, to your point. But we’re also part of a larger community, and it’s expected that we give back, and people do it. They do it and they see it modeled, and when you do that it really gets very easy.

John: But someone like you and I, were generally the same generation. When I talk to our peers, I find that they look to three different types of leaders. One of the classic sports leaders, like the Nick Saban of the world, Bill Belichick. Or they look to the classic type of corporate leaders, like Jamie Dimon, and Brian Moynihan. Or they look more for some of the religious leaders out there and the servant leadership, If you were to say, “John, my role models are, and I look for inspiration and aspiration from.” How would you finish those sentences, Mike?

Mike: Yeah. Well, in those categories, I think the servant leadership. One of the things that always strikes me, John, is that what crowd of people you’re looking to, humility in a leader is something that is incredibly attractive. It’s very attractive. People want to be around a leader who is a good listener and is humble. It’s always lost on me that more leaders don’t see that and capture it. Because when you have a leader like that, and I’ve been fortunate enough to work for some people, they can’t do enough for you. They can’t jump in and do whatever that leader needs to be done. So it’s easy for them to chart out a vision and get folks to follow them. So I wouldn’t say that I always model that, but I would like to think that for me, that kind of leadership is attractive and also mindful of situational leadership, right? So I think the models you suggested, you sometimes need a little bit of something different for your audience, for your approach, or your objective.

John: You’re so right, Mike. The success plus humility is one of the most attractive, powerful combinations that are out there today. For our listeners and viewers who’ve just joined us, we’ve got Mike Rizer with us. He’s the Executive Director of Corporate Citizenship at Ally Financial and President of the Ally Charitable Foundation. You can find Mike and his colleagues in all the great and important work they do at Also, we’ll have in the show notes all links to their most recent CSR reports and other important links that relate to Ally Financial successful charitable endeavors. Talk a little bit about some of your greatest hits. What are you most proud of when you look back and from where you sit today with regards to the work that you’re doing at the Charitable Foundation at Ally Financial?

Mike: Yeah, thank you. There are a couple of things I’d love to tell you about. One is, we started the Ally Charitable Foundation in 2020 with a commitment to strategically invest $30 million over three years. We almost doubled that and got to $58 million in three years. Again, primarily in these areas of affordable housing, which is a huge issue in the cities in which we give workforce development and financial education. We’re really finding some impactful ways to be in the communities and make a difference. One of the ways that we’ve done that, that’s a little unique and innovative. I know your audience is always looking for those ways maybe that differentiate philanthropic endeavors is our first mission-related investment.

As you probably know, mission related investments are MRIs are these hybrid kinds of instruments that are like a loans. But you use grant money and it’s eventually paid back, but at a very low interest of a very long time. For example, if you put $3 million over 20 years in that case, got a market rate of about an 8% return, we’re going to help a housing loan fund provide very affordable housing for thousands of people in our market by placing that money out there. But we’ll also get the interest, which will then feed back in and allow us to do even more good out to the future. So it’s a little complicated, you have to have some bankers at your side to produce them, but they really allow you to do much more in the community in a more creative way than just simply giving out the grant funds that never returned to you.

John: Talk a little bit about your most recent CSR report that came out, and what are you most proud about that? As you and I know, there’s no finish line in sustainability, corporate citizenship, or impact work, it’s a journey. What are you looking forward to in 2024 and next year’s report that comes out?

Mike: Yeah. Thank you for that question. I think one of the things I’d love to tell you about in our work is what we call trust-based philanthropy. That’s a concept that’s been around for about 10 years. We learned about it about three years ago. At its core, John, it’s really taking the power dynamic out of giving. Rather than a donor grantee relationship, and we tell you what to do, you really try to together solve the community issues. Because the nonprofit on the ground is closer to them, you really trust them. We decided to do that. So we gave multi-year grants to 16 minority-led organizations in Charlotte and Detroit.

The results have been incredible. What I’m really proud about is that these are small organizations that really weren’t on a lot of people’s radar by doing great work, but part of what we do is really go deeper than the money. While the grants are important, we also try to wrap our arms around them. Do they need a board position? Do they need some technology help? Do they need some marketing assistance? So we really try to get innovative. Again, because sometimes relatively small, we try to do those things which really differentiate us and really proud of the results that those 16 organizations have had in their communities.

John: In terms of philanthropy, you always read the headlines about when you give to an organization that has a great brand name, how much is really going to the great work and work they’re supposed to be doing, and how much gets peeled off for administration? How do you stratify organizations when you are looking to invest and give grants and do other philanthropy to organizations in Charlotte and Detroit, in the key areas that you do your work in? What separates the wheat from the chaff when you’re looking at the organizations to invest in?

Mike: Yeah, that’s a great question, John. Historically, the pendulum has kind of swung. So 10 years ago, folks would say, “You got to show you’re not spending more than 10% or 15% on administrative work.” We want every dollar of ours going to make sure you’ve got a bed for somebody for that night or a meal for them. The pendulum’s kind of swung back for organizations have come to us and said, but we got to keep the lights on. We got to pay for the heat. We need some overhead and not every dollar can go to a program. I’ll go back to my comment about it all being about relationships.

We really try to have a relationship with the organization and know what do they need, and get close enough that we trust they’re going to be good stewards of our dollars. Then, we creatively figure out what does an impact report look like from them. It might not be that they served a hundred meals a month, but it might be that they led the neighborhood through some transitions, etc., that required lots of meetings and lots of things that are hard to maybe have some comfortable outputs around, but we know it was the right thing that community needed.

John: That’s so interesting. One of the questions I have, Mike, I’m fascinated by your bank’s online model. I’m 61 years old, and I remember walking into banks as a kid with my car wash money or my snow shoveling money to make a deposit or withdrawal from my local bank in Queens, New York, and building relationships and knowing who the security guard was and the teller was. What’s your secret sauce for building a stickiness with your customer base of 11 million plus customers since you’re not seeing them in person? How do you build a stickiness and grow your customer base on a regular basis?

Mike: Yeah. Well, I have to tell you, I’m a similar agent, and like you, I take my paper route money into my savings alone with my little passbook…

John: That was me.

Mike: … save it up until I could go buy my first bike. Yeah, I love it.

John: Right.

Mike: Well, you’ve obviously been on our site, and I encourage the listeners and viewers to do the same thing. You’ll notice a real voice. It’s a real ally voice in an ally tone, and it’s very casual, it’s very unbanked. It’s very understandable. We really try to filter out all of the legalese. When you go on there, you just feel like, “Ah, this is a guy I sat next to on the bus or something.” Just started having a conversation. It’s simple and it’s straightforward. They have my interest at heart, and they explain things and they make it easy. I think the word on that gets out, and people like the ease. They like the informality. They like that it’s straightforward, as you say, we always try to do it right is our slogan, “Do it right.” So we really live by that.

John: I love it. There’s not a day that goes by that you and I can read our newspapers or read them either in hard copy or online or watch Bloomberg or CNN where we don’t hear about AI. How is AI going to impact the great important work that you do and other charitable foundations do in 2024 and beyond? What are your thoughts on that?

Mike: Yeah, great question. I’ll tell you. I haven’t been in a meeting a day over the last two weeks that hasn’t come up.

John: Yeah.

Mike: I think there are a couple of things, right? I think that we’re trying to hold as a society. Two things. One is, it will make incredible advances for us in medicine, right? In productivity and efficiency.

John: Yeah.

Mike: It can be scary, right? We know of deep fakes and how it might affect the election and everything. So, we know both of those things are true. I think for us as ally, we’re really investing in it. We are particularly interested around the equity piece of AI, right? So we know that there’s already a digital divide in America between the haves and haves-nots in terms of both in terms of hardware and access to the internet. We know that AI can exacerbate that even more.

My team and teams across the Ally are really digging in and trying to learn and talk to our communities about AI so that they understand what it is, and we are listening to them about the impacts and their feelings about it. I think for us to answer your question, John, it’s a matter of how do we do this equitably. It’s happening, it’s there, it’s coming, it’s here. How do we really make sure there’s fairness and equity as it’s executed all around us?

John: Well, Mike, I’m so grateful that you spent time with us today at the Impact Podcast. I want you to know that I understand that this is a journey. There’s no finish line, and I’d love you to come back and share your continued journey. For our listeners and viewers to find Mike and all his colleagues and all the important work they’re doing in the charitable sector and also in corporate citizenship, please go to, and also they’ll be in the show notes, his most recent link to his most recent Corporate Citizens report. That’s really important as well, Mike. We need more people like you in this world. We need more great servant leaders. I’m so grateful for all the work you do with your colleagues, and thank you for making the world a better place.

Mike: Thank you so much, John. It’s been a pleasure to be with you today. Thanks for all the work that you do and the light that you shine on so many important topics for all of us.

John: This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Engage. Engage is a digital booking platform, revolutionizing the talent booking industry with thousands of athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs, and business leaders. Engage is the go-to spot for booking talent, for speeches, custom experiences, live streams, and much more. For more information on Engage or to book talent today, visit This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet and your privacy, and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit