How to recognize the power of your credit union’s social mission

How does social responsibility contribute to your bottom line? Would your credit union risk omitting membership growth objectives from its strategic plan? It would be safe to say any credit union would be remiss to omit growth from its corporate goals. It is also safe to presume most credit unions similarly utilize customary methods of addressing growth through loan promotions, savings challenges and other product driven campaigns. While these practices have proven their ability to attract new members, there is a secret weapon that remains unexplored.

Your corporate social responsibility strategy has the power to attract new members and give your institution the competitive advantage to remain viable for years to come. For the past 2 years, America’s First FCU has promoted the Community First campaign. The campaign is an employee-driven initiative with a two-fold mission: Support non-profit organizations in the communities where we do business and empower individuals to make wise financial decisions. It also demonstrates our commitment to being financially sound while making an impact on the lives, economy, and environment around us. America’s First chooses three non-profit organizations to receive the funds raised during the campaign.

In today’s society, and especially among the Millennials, members want to know that institutions share their values and cooperate with others to make their communities better.  These philanthropic actions cultivate brand loyalty and attract civic-minded members to the people helping people movement.

Prior to the Community First campaign, America’s First FCU partnered with local charities providing in branch access to collect donations and post their donation signs commemorating the giving spirit of our generous membership. Today, those donation signs have our company logo, accompanied by the logos of the three Community First recipients.

Before the campaign was implemented, branches collected an average of $5,000 over two months.  Since establishing the Community First campaign in 2014, our branches have collected over $12,000 each year during this same time period. The increased donations are a result of our members giving and supporting our fundraisers, employees embracing the company’s desire to give more, and management’s recognition that our commitment to being community focused requires our financial resources and company manpower. These efforts, in conjunction with other fundraisers and activities, provided over $21,000 each, for a total of $63,000 to the 2015 campaign recipients. The 2014 recipients received over $51,000, or $17,000 each. This represents the type of growth that social responsibility contributes to an institution.

Before the Next Top Credit Union Executive contest, I was introduced to Annetta Dolowitz, a professor at the University of Alabama-Birmingham who teaches their Non-Profit Organization Management course. This meeting created a partnership between America’s First FCU and UAB students to develop charitable giving policies and procedures for the Community First campaign. The course was created to partner students with non-profit organizations, enhancing their knowledge of the organizations’ operations and working on long term strategies to help the non-profits thrive in the future. The course also provides an in-depth understanding of the issues non-profits face regarding staffing shortages, fundraising challenges, or board participation. This partnership allows the credit union to collaborate with the students and represents another aspect of the growth associated with embracing cooperation within the community.

During a recent strategic planning meeting America’s First FCU’s President and CEO, Bill Connor, pledged his commitment to making the company a strong community partner. This acknowledgment affirms the mission of the Community First campaign. We responsibly embrace our duty to focus on growth, revenue, and costs, but realize that our duty to be good corporate stewards carries just as much weight. While social responsibility may not be statistically linked to our profits, we have reignited the philanthropic spirit that drives this movement, and we have fun doing it!

The Community First campaign has the potential to be more than the giving and service arm of the credit union, it has the ability to offer products and services to help our members recover from financial hardships and reestablish their credit.  Our organization has certainly recognized the value of incorporating a sound corporate responsibility strategy in our marketing plan. There is no perfect formula for growing your organization, however it is wise to utilize every weapon in your arsenal to share your values and promote the giving spirit that drives the credit union movement.

Jimese Harkley