Friendly wager stokes fundraising fire

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Ion Bank President David Rotatori, left, poses with Ion Bank CEO Charles Boulier in front of the bank’s headquarters on Church Street in Naugatuck. -HARRISON CONNERY/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

NAUGATUCK — Outwardly, Charles Boulier, outgoing chief executive officer at Ion Bank, appears content as he sits at his desk under a head of neatly slicked-back hair, speaking with a kind voice emphasized by smooth, deliberate hand motions.

But these are dark times for Boulier, who is heading this year’s United Way of Greater Waterbury’s fundraising efforts. He is in real danger of being out-raised percentagewise by Ion Bank President and incoming CEO David Rotatori’s United Way of Naugatuck and Beacon Falls’ fundraising campaign, thereby losing their bet.

At stake: one beer.

As the June deadline approaches and the specter of Rotatori exceeding his fundraising goal by a greater percentage than Boulier grows, so does the likelihood that Boulier will be the one to buy a beer for Rotatori.

“Dave usually wins bets,” Boulier conceded. “Dave’s worked really, really hard. Because it’s a smaller campaign Dave’s been involved at the grassroots.”

Rotatori, who at age 45 is 17 years Boulier’s junior, has given about 25 presentations to local businesses, schools and bank personnel.

Boulier said this year’s United Way of Greater Waterbury’s employer fundraising is meeting its goals but is lagging in corporate giving.

“This is where I’m urging CEOs if they haven’t made their corporate pledges please consider it because that’s an important piece,” Boulier said. “If everybody played their part we would easily exceed our targets.”

The Greater Waterbury campaign has a $4.1 million goal and the Naugatuck campaign is hoping to raise $415,000.

Boulier and Rotatori have been involved with the United Way their entire adult lives and take pride in running a business with the same charitable inclination as them. Ion Bank pays its dividends to the Ion Bank Foundation, a charitable organization established by former bank President Mark Yanarella and the bank’s board of directors.

So far Ion Bank has contributed over $11.1 million to the foundation, which has given $6.8 million to the community since it was founded in 1998.

“United Way and Ion Bank have similar missions,” Boulier said. “It really comes down to helping people. We truly are allies or friends of our community, we want to give back.”

Boulier, who joined the bank in 2004 and became president in 2011 and CEO in 2013, said that employee contributions to the United Way exceeded $100,000 in 2017. Over the past six years the nearly 300 people who constitute the bank and its insurance division’s employees have averaged $78,775 in annual contributions to the United Way and an average of 21,125 volunteer hours. Rotatori said employees must meet a minimum threshold of volunteering to qualify for the bank’s profit-sharing program. The Ion Bank Foundation will match each dollar contributed by employees and Rotatori hopes other organizations will do the same.

Rotatori’s relationship with the United Way began when he took a high school job as an accounting clerk and later an internal auditor at the bank, called Naugatuck Savings Bank at the time, his senior year in 1990. He gave pennies per week and doubled his weekly contribution every year for the five years he worked at the bank through college. Even after leaving the bank for an auditing job at auditing firm KPMG and then moving onto Webster Bank as an assistant controller and to People’s United Bank as vice president and finance officer, he continued to be involved with United Way. He returned to Ion Bank in 2009 as senior vice president, chief revenue officer and chief accountability officer. He and Boulier are now both members of the United Way Tocqueville Society.

Boulier’s relationship with the United Way began when he was a boy. The United Way paid his family’s rent in exchange for his father doing light maintenance jobs after finishing his milk delivery routes.

“Mom always taught us — mom and dad, dad’s still living — you’ve got to pay it back, always give back to your community,” Boulier said. “The community of Waterbury really helped me and my family a lot, obviously I’ll never forget that.”

Boulier said he has given to the United Way every year since he started working at New Haven Savings Bank in 1978, except the year he couldn’t afford to because his son was born.

Boulier said he wouldn’t much mind losing the bet to Rotatori, who is in an 18-month transitional period on his way to replacing him at the head of the bank. Driving an effective charity campaign whose outcome will have a real effect on people’s lives may be his last and most important lesson for Rotatori.

“The transition that we’re going through now, part of it is giving back to the communities, it’s in our mission,” Rotatori said. “So it’s like Chuck is giving me another lesson here of community-giving and I’m trying to follow in his footsteps.”